Seeking to burnish his credentials as a plausible commander-in-chief,
On the second day of a three-nation European tour before he formally announces his campaign for president, the former Florida governor called for a more robust international response to counter Russian military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“He’s a bully,”
But Bush struggled to differentiate himself from current U.S. policy in the region.
He said the
The Obama administration and other NATO governments instead have rotated more troops through those countries, and stepped up military exercises, intelligence sharing and regional air and sea patrols since early 2104, when Russia effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine.
"We have troops there now that move in and out, training exercises. But I think they could be more robust," Bush said. "You see the difference between our training exercises and the Russian training exercises, where they deploy tens of thousands of people in the region. I mean, literally next door to our allies and our response is far less meaningful."
Two major NATO military exercises, both led by U.S. troops, are currently underway close to the Russian border.
About 6,000 personnel from 13 countries, including the United States, are participating in the "Saber Strike 15" exercise taking place this month in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
In a press release, NATO said Saber Strike is led by the U.S. Army Europe, and the goal is to improve cooperation and capabilities for "future contingency operations." The U.S. Air Force is providing aerial refueling, joint tactical air control, personnel and equipment airlift, and close air support.
In a separate exercise called BALTOPS 2015, 17 NATO and partner nations are participating in joint maritime maneuvers this month in Poland, Sweden, Germany and throughout the Baltic Sea. The goal, NATO said, is to "demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region."
The exercise, which is led by the U.S. Navy, involves 49 ships, 61 aircraft, one submarine, and about 5,600 ground, maritime and air force personnel.
Bush is under a microscope at home and abroad to distinguish himself from his brother, President
But wary of making the kind of gaffes that have caused stumbles for other presidential aspirants, the latest member of the Bush family to seek the Oval Office repeatedly declined to lay out specific policy proposals on his European trip.
"Look I'm here to learn, to listen and learn and get a better sense of all this. I don't come to offer five-point plans," Bush said in response to questions about whether the U.S. military should play a stronger role in the region.
Bush again declared the failure of the proposed “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia, referring to efforts to improve U.S. ties with Moscow shortly after Obama took office in 2009. Putin was then prime minister under Russian President
But Putin proved troublesome for George W. Bush too. Shortly after he took office in 2001, he said he had looked the former KGB officer in the eye and “found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.” That sentiment was soon mocked by other Republicans, including Sen.
"Putin has changed," Bush argued on Wednesday. "He's just invaded another country, that was different than it was a decade ago. This is a different, this is a different Putin, much more aggressive. So, look, I don't begrudge anybody trying to develop better relationships with any country, but it's clear that in this particular case the much-heralded reset didn't work out."
Russia denies that it has sent troops in Ukraine.
Bush flew to Poland later Wednesday and made an unannounced visit to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. He is scheduled to meet Thursday with President
Bush, who will formally kick off his presidential campaign Monday in Florida, pushed back at suggestions that he has failed to take a commanding lead in the GOP race, or that a leadership shakeup in his campaign staff this week signaled trouble.
"It's a long haul," Bush said. "You start wherever you start, and you end a long way away from where we are today, so I just urge everybody to be a little more patient about this."
Times correspondent David S. Cloud contributed in Washington.
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