President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. and its allies would be forced to apply a cost to Russia if it presses ahead with a referendum on Sunday that would effectively annex Crimea.
His comments came in a White House meeting with Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. With the prime minister sitting beside him Obama said “We will stand with Ukraine.”
This was Obama’s first meeting with Yatsenyuk and was meant to underscore U.S. support for the new government and the Ukrainian people.
The president referred to Russia’s military presence in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula as a threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. He also said Washington “completely rejects” Sunday’s planned Russia-backed referendum that would have Crimea secede from Ukraine. He said the vote, “patched together in a few weeks,” is a violation of international law.
For his part, Yatsenyuk thanked Washington for its support, and said his government is “absolutely ready and willing” for talks with Moscow. But said Ukraine will never surrender. He also said his government is preparing to sign an association agreement with the European Union later this month.
Obama said he hoped diplomatic efforts would lead to a “rethinking” of the Russian-backed referendum on Sunday, but he said if the vote does take place “We will not recognize any referendum that goes forward.”
As part of the talks, Obama and Yatsenyuk discussed financial assistance for Ukraine. The U.S. has already pledged $1 billion in aid.
In a separate show of support, a group of U.S. senators, headed by Senator John McCain, will be traveling to Ukraine for meetings this weekend.
Their trip takes place as the U.S. Senate is considering a package of possible new sanctions on Russia as well as economic aid to Ukraine.
Kerry to meet again with with Lavrov
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to London to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday to try to ease tensions over Ukraine ahead of Sunday’s planned Crimea referendum.
“The Secretary will continue to reaffirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukrainian sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, and the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, without outside interference or provocation by Russia.” the State Department said in a statement announcing Kerry’s trip.
Last week, Kerry met with Lavrov twice in Europe to discuss the crisis over Ukraine. Neither meeting yielded any results.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 403 to six to condemn Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty in Crimea. The resolution also calls for international monitors to go to the region.
Moscow has officially denied that its troops are participating in the occupation of Crimea. But witnesses say military personnel in unmarked uniforms arrived in Russian-registered vehicles earlier this month and freely admit to being Russian.
G-7 blasts Russia
Joined by other leaders, the G-7 is calling on Russia to cease all efforts to change the status of Ukraine’s peninsula in violation of Ukrainian and international law.
A controversial Moscow-backed referendum on the territory’s status, which the West has said it will not recognize, is planned for Sunday.
“Any such referendum would have no legal effect. Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force. For all these reasons, we would not recognize the outcome,” says the G-7 statement as released by the White House.
Citing a number of international agreements the referendum would violate, the statement also stresses that “the annexation of Crimea [by Russia] could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states.”
“Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively,” the statement adds.
The statement was issued by the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States as well as the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission.
It also reminds Moscow of “our decision to suspend participation in any activities related to preparation of a G-8 Sochi meeting until it changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion.”
The summit in the Russian city was scheduled for June.