BERLIN — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is warning Russia’s Vladimir Putin that a Bush presidency would mean a more active U.S. role in countering Russian aggression, especially in Ukraine and eastern Europe.
In excerpts released before Bush’s speech Tuesday to a prominent European economic conference, Bush says: “Who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered?”
“Our alliance, our solidarity and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order, an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build,” Bush says, according to remarks provided by Bush’s aides.
Bush provided no detail for how he would ensure that “Ukraine, a sovereign European nation, must be permitted to choose its own path.”
More broadly, Bush called for the deepening of economic and security ties with eastern European nations, vulnerable to potential Russian meddling. Bush is on a three-country visit this week, which also includes former Eastern bloc countries Poland and Estonia.
“Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors,” Bush said.
It’s hardly a radical message for the former Florida governor, who is stepping onto the international stage for the first time as a presidential candidate.
Bush, like most Republican White House prospects, supports economic sanctions on Russia and sending military equipment and economic aid to Ukraine, where separatists, believed backed by Putin, are fighting pro-independence forces.
The U.S. and Germany — as well as Poland and Estonia — are NATO allies who work closely together on a host of diplomatic issues, ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to Ukraine. Germany is also the U.S.’s strongest European trading partner, and Bush has praised Estonia and Poland as fast emerging free-market success stories.
Obama on Monday wrapped up a two-day Group of Seven meeting at a Bavarian resort at which he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to continue the two nations’ close ties and joint diplomatic projects.
And while it’s popular for Republican presidential prospects to condemn Putin, it’s also a metaphor for attacking the Obama administration’s foreign policy, carried out during his first term by then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Bush has said he believes Obama has ceded to Germany too much of the diplomatic burden in Europe, chiefly for rallying approval for sanctions against Russia for its backing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine — a difficult task, given Russia’s deep economic relationships on the continent. European leaders — particularly French President Francois Hollande and Merkel — have taken the lead on Russian-Ukraine peace agreements.
And though would-be Bush rivals have traveled internationally as presidential prospects, Bush has strategically chosen to visit these three U.S. allies just before he formally announces his candidacy on June 15 in Miami.
Last week, Bush aides confirmed that he plans to seek the 2016 Republican nomination, as has been widely expected since he formed a political action committee early in the year and began raising tens of millions of dollars to fuel it.
Bush is expected to meet Merkel informally Tuesday evening at the conference where they are both speaking, though the two are not meeting privately. It’s the conference of the economic council of the Christian Democratic Union, the political party Merkel leads.
Bush plans to meet privately with Germany’s finance minister Tuesday before the speech, and later with Poland’s president and president-elect, and Estonia’s president.
“Both the United States and the European Union are confronted by legitimate security concerns,” said Kristen Silverberg, a Bush adviser and former ambassador to the European Union during President George W. Bush’s second term.
Estonia, for instance, has a booming information technology industry — engineers in Estonia invented Skype — that survived a cyberattack from Russia in 2007 that knocked out many of the small Baltic country’s online government services.
Although Jeb Bush has traveled extensively overseas while and since serving two terms as Florida governor, the trip is aimed primarily at strengthening his credentials overseas, an area of experience often seen as lacking in state governors who run for president.