Capping the two-day German leg of a European trip aimed at bolstering the former Florida governor's foreign policy credentials, Bush said Putin is "a bully," who can only be contained by a show of robust force.
"I'm not talking about being bellicose but saying here are the consequences of your actions," Bush told reporters before departing his Berlin hotel for a meeting with the German foreign minister. "And that would deter the kind of bad outcome that we don't want to see."
Bush said in a speech to a prominent European economic conference in Berlin Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration rightly has sent U.S. forces to train along the border of Poland and the Baltic nations, which border Russia.
The deployment, on a rotating basis, is a response to Russian-backed separatists who have taken over a large segment of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. A multinational force, including Americans, Canadians and others are part of the temporary force, which also includes hundreds of armoured personnel carriers and tanks sent there on a temporary basis.
But leaders in Estonia, where Bush is scheduled to visit Friday, along with fellow Baltic nations Lithuania and Latvia, have asked the U.S. to send more — and more permanent — U.S. forces to the region.
Bush said the U.S. and NATO ought to consider matching Russian forces, performing exercises on the opposite side of the border.
"They're deploying tens of thousands of people in the region, I mean, literally next door to our allies and our response is far less meaningful," Bush told reporters, referring to Russian moves in the region. "From the outside, without having any kind of classified information, it appears we could have a more robust presence."
Bush stopped short of calling for a U.S. naval presence in the area, though Great Britain has recently deployed a warship to the region.
Bush is in Europe this week meeting with business and government leaders in Germany, Poland and Estonia, stressing his view that the U.S. role in the region has softened under Obama, and that a Bush administration would bring renewed involvement in European affairs.
Bush was to travel to Poland later Wednesday, where he will meet with the outgoing president and president-elect.
He wraps up the trip by visiting tech-hub Estonia on Friday before returning to the United States Saturday. He plans to announce his candidacy Monday.