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President Obama / Alex Wong, Getty Images

During this week's trip to Europe, President Obama will speak with more than a dozen allies about one very specific rival: Russia.

The president will attend a string of high-profile events - the 25th anniversary of free elections in Poland, a G-7 summit in Brussels and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France - but his travels will be shadowed by what aides have called Russia's land grab in Ukraine.

"We generally will have a focus on our support for the people and government of Ukraine," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communication.

Other topics, Rhodes said, include strengthening NATO and improving European energy security, both issues related to Russia and Ukraine. Obama is likely to discuss his new climate change plan and to follow up on last week's foreign policy address stressing the importance of allies.

There will be a face-to-face meeting between Obama and the new president-elect of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, as well as a group discussion with other leaders from Eastern Europe, who are worried about Russia's next moves in Ukraine and throughout the region.

The trip "comes at a very important time in the trans-Atlantic relationship, as we seek to reaffirm our commitments to our European allies," Rhodes said.

The United States and European allies agreed to slap sanctions on individuals and businesses in Russia after it annexed the Crimean region of Ukraine. Europe - much of which depends on gas supplies from Russia - is divided over the prospect of more aggressive sanctions that target entire sectors of the Russian economy.

The scheduling of the G-7 summit itself is a poke at Russia. The Brussels get-together replaces a meeting that had been set for Sochi, Russia, back when the group was known as the G-8. The United States and allies booted Russia out after it annexed Crimea.

The president's Europe schedule:

‚?ĘPoland. Obama will leave Washington Monday evening for Warsaw, where he'll have meetings with President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Obama will speak with a group of American and Polish F-16 pilots, highlighting joint training missions that began after Russia's incursion into Ukraine. Some Polish officials have requested that more NATO troops be stationed in Poland.

Worries about Russia's territorial ambitions underscore Obama's meetings with counterparts from Poland and other Eastern European nations that broke away from the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. Officials in some of these countries fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to reassert his nation's influence throughout the region.

Obama will probably speak about Russia during a ceremony Wednesday to honor the 25th anniversary of Polish Freedom Day, which commemorates the elections in 1989 that heralded the end of the Cold War. He is likely to reaffirm U.S. support for the young democracies of Eastern Europe.

Wednesday will bring Obama's one-on-one meeting with Poroshenko, the chocolate business magnate who easily won Ukraine's election late last month. Poroshenko wants Ukraine to have stronger ties to Europe and the West, something Russia opposes.

‚?ĘBelgium. Obama will leave Poland on Wednesday for Brussels and a ceremonial meeting with King Philippe at the Royal Palace. The president will head to a working dinner with G-7 colleagues from Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan.

Though Russia is the focus of the G-7 summit, world leaders are in something of a holding pattern in the wake of Ukraine's elections last month. Officials are concerned that Russia may be instigating separatist violence in southern and eastern Ukraine, but they're waiting to see if it tries to interfere with the new government.

In his foreign policy speech last week at West Point, N.Y., Obama said that although the outcome remains uncertain, "standing with our allies" in confronting Russia with sanctions "has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future without us firing shot."

Obama will have more G-7 meetings Thursday, the topics of which include trade and climate change. The United States hopes to get European allies to develop new sources of energy, thereby becoming less dependent on Russian gas.

Also on the Brussels schedule Thursday: a one-on-one meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

‚?ĘFrance. Air Force One will ferry Obama on Thursday afternoon to Paris, where he'll have a private dinner with French President Francois Hollande.

The next morning, Obama will head to the beaches of Normandy to join other world leaders for the 70th commemoration of the D-Day invasion that began the liberation of Europe during World War II.

In his remarks, Obama is likely to link the U.S.-European alliance that planned D-Day to the "9/11 generation" that has confronted terrorism and made sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even in Normandy, Russia will hover. Among others invited to D-Day ceremonies: Putin.

Rhodes said, "We don't have any plans for a bilateral meeting with President Putin."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Obama to speak with European allies about Russia

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