Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush has warned Russia that if he is president the US will step up its actions to counter Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and eastern Europe and seek to “isolate his corrupt leadership from his people”.
Mr Bush criticised what he called dramatic declines in US military spending, suggesting it has undermined credibility as Washington and its allies confront threats in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
He said Mr Putin must know there will be consequences to his actions, as he is a ruthless pragmatist who “will push until someone pushes back”.
Mr Bush addressed a major economic conference in Berlin as part of a trip that comes ahead of his planned announcement in Miami on Monday that he is running for the 2016 Republican nomination. He is also visiting Poland and Estonia.
In his speech, Mr Bush called for the deepening of economic and security ties with eastern European nations, vulnerable to Russian meddling.
“Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbours,” he said. But as Nato confronts the crisis, he said it must do so in a way that does not push Russia away for another generation.
Mr Bush supports economic sanctions against Russia, and sending military equipment and economic aid to Ukraine, where separatists, believed to be backed by Mr Putin, are fighting pro-independence forces.
The US and Germany, as well as Poland and Estonia, are Nato allies that work closely on a host of diplomatic issues, including Ukraine and Iran’s nuclear programme. Germany is also America’s strongest European trading partner, and Mr Bush has praised Estonia and Poland as fast emerging free-market success stories.
On Monday, US president Barack Obama wrapped up a two-day G7 meeting where he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed ties between the two nations.
And although it is popular for Republican presidential prospects to condemn Mr Putin, it is also a way to criticise the Obama administration’s foreign policy, carried out during his first term by then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, now a Democratic presidential hopeful.
Mr Bush has said Mr 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.
European leaders, particularly French president François Hollande and Mrs Merkel, have taken the lead on Russian-Ukraine peace agreements.
Although Mr Bush has travelled extensively overseas while and since serving as Florida governor, the trip is aimed primarily at strengthening his foreign policy credentials.