But when he arrives in Europe, Obama will find most of those allies anxious and many of those partners angry. "There is increasing anger and frustration toward the United States," said Heather A. Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. She said many European leaders had planned to use these meetings to vent their unhappiness with American surveillance of their private conversations as well as their frustration over a global economic slowdown in its fifth year.
Now, however, the Russian threat to Ukraine has forced EU leaders to mute that anger and focus on the current crisis gripping the continent. They find themselves looking to Washington for leadership but not all of them are eager to follow Obama's lead down the path of stiff economic sanctions. They fear such sanctions will hurt their own financial interests more than Putin's cronies.
But they want to hear from Obama directly about what comes next in what Conley called "this new and highly combustible context." They will get that chance first in smaller meetings both in the Hague and Brussels and then in what the White House is billing as the major address of the trip. That will be Wednesday at the Palais des Beaux-Arts when he will offer "his vision of trans-Atlantic relations, of European security," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser.
Rhodes told reporters that "the situation in Ukraine will factor heavily into his presentation."
In fact, that situation overshadows everything Obama plans this week, from his visit to the World War I battlefield of Flanders in Belgium to his first meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican to an emergency meeting of the G-7 allies and a session with the leaders of the NATO alliance.
"The Obama trip is going to be dominated by Ukraine," said Michael J. Geary, an assistant professor of modern Europe at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and a European expert at the Wilson Center. He called it critical for the president to push the allies to offer more financial aid to Kiev to stabilize what is left of Ukraine.
"They need the money now because the country's under the verge of bankruptcy," he said.
Jeremy Shapiro, who helped handle European affairs in the State Department in Obama's first term, voiced some frustration that "some pretty important presidential priorities" will be pushed into the shadows by the Ukraine crisis. But he said it is critical that the allies rush aid to Ukraine, which, he said, "needs a lot of short-term money to stave off collapse."
The problem for Obama as he exhorts Europe to do more is that he has failed so far to get his own Congress to approve a U.S. aid package. "I do think that the president has to deliver the United States," acknowledged Shapiro, recalling that when he was at the State Department he sometimes found himself "exhorting people to do things that we weren't doing."