U.S. President Barack Obama
and Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk had strong
words for Russia on Wednesday as Washington again warned
Moscow there will be consequences if it doesn’t remove its troops from
Crimea and Kiev said that it will “never surrender.”
But Yatsenyuk also said after his meeting with Obama at the White
House that Ukraine, a former Soviet Republic, wants to be good
friends with Russia.
“We will continue to say to the Russian government that if it
continues on the path that is on, then not only us but the international
community … will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violations of
international law,” Obama told reporters. “There is another path
available, and we hope that (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin is
willing seize that path.”
Yatsenyuk — who took over after the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych,
the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine — said that Ukraine
is fighting for its freedom.
“We fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender,” he said.
Later he added that he wanted to be clear that Ukraine “is and will be
a part of the Western world” but still a “good friend and partner of
At a meeting of an international affairs think tank called the Atlantic
Council in Washington, Yatsenyuk further explained.
“We still want to have a free (and) equal partnership with Russia.
And you can’t do it having a military incursion. We do not consider a
military option as the best option on how to fix this crisis,” he said.
Even as the leaders met earlier pro-Russian forces
were tightening their grip in Crimea ahead of a
secession referendum denounced by the West.
Well-armed men have effectively isolated the Crimean
peninsula, which has an ethnic Russian majority, from
the rest of Ukraine.
Tensions flared Wednesday at a Ukrainian military
base in Novoozernoye, in western Crimea. A CNN
team saw Ukrainian forces load and cock their
weapons as what appeared to be Russian soldiers
moved in on the base and placed a heavy machine gun at
the gates. The Russian troops pulled back.
Yatsenyuk first met U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry before heading to the White House and later met
with members of the Senate Foreign Relations
He will go to New York on Thursday to address the
United Nations Security Council. The Ukrainian
delegation will also meet with Congress, the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund while in
Washington, in an indication of international support
for Ukraine’s fledgling government.
Yatsenyuk’s visit comes as breakneck preparations are
under way for a Sunday referendum in Ukraine’s
Black Sea peninsula — to be held largely in secret —
and tensions persist around Simferopol, Crimea’s
Flights to Crimea from Kiev, Istanbul and several
other cities have been suspended for the rest of the week,
with only those originating from Moscow landing.
Crimeans will be able to choose between two alternatives when they
vote: Do you support reuniting Crimea with Russia, as a subject of
the Russian Federation? Or, do you support the restoration of the
1992 Constitution of the Republic of Crimea and Crimea’s status as a
part of Ukraine?
The Crimean Electoral Commission was delivering referendum
ballots to regional administrative buildings, according to the body’s
head, Michail Malishev.
The new pro-Russian government on the peninsula in Ukraine’s
southeast said Tuesday that if the voters opt to join Russia, the first
step will be to declare Crimea an independent and sovereign state.
Then it will apply to join the Russian Federation.
Crimea’s representatives have already approached Moscow with their
idea. Russian leaders have greeted them with open arms.
Russian-speaking troops wearing no identifying insignia have Crimea
firmly under their control. Many believe that they belong at least in
part to Russia’s military, an assertion Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Russia says they are local “self-defense” forces.
There has been an international outcry over Crimea’s push for
separation and warnings that the referendum won’t be recognized in
Kiev or elsewhere.
Efforts to exert diplomatic pressure on Moscow continued Wednesday
despite little sign that Russia is listening.
Kerry said he would meet Friday in London with Russian Foreign
Minister Sergey Lavrov, to continue discussions on the situation in
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande told Putin, in a
phone call that the referendum planned in Crimea “has no legal basis.”
Hollande urged Putin to “do everything to prevent the annexation of
Crimea to Russia,” saying that such a move would be unacceptable to
the international community.
In a different tone, a statement from the Kremlin said Putin and
Hollande had agreed to continue discussions, and France’s foreign and
defense ministers would travel to Moscow next week.
U.S. military presence
CNN has learned the Obama administration is expected to announce
Thursday a Pentagon plan to keep the aircraft carrier USS George
H. W. Bush in the Mediterranean Sea longer than planned to help
reassure NATO allies in the wake of the Russian invasion of
One official said U.S. military assets in the region are being
reviewed for “what stays, what goes, what gets moved around.”
Although the U.S. effort with Russia focuses on diplomatic
initiatives, the military part of the equation was discussed in depth at
a White House meeting Tuesday, the military official confirmed.
Asked about the decision to keep the aircraft carrier in the
Mediterranean, a senior administration official said not to expect
much more muscle-flexing, or additional military steps, between now
and Sunday’s referendum in Crimea.
G7 tells Russia to back off
The G7 — the world’s leading industrial powers without Russia —
and leaders of the European Council and Commission issued a
strongly worded statement calling on Russia to “cease all efforts to
change the status of Crimea contrary to Ukrainian law and in
violation of international law.”
The statement urged Russia to immediately halt actions supporting the
“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,” it
It warned that the annexation of Crimea could have “grave
implications” for the legal order protecting the sovereignty of all states.
“Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take
further action, individually and collectively,” it said.
The G7 nations — the United States, Canada, France, Germany,
United Kingdom, Italy and Japan — had already suspended
preparations for a planned G8 summit in the Russian city of Sochi in
June in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Amid tensions over Ukraine, space cooperation goes on
The peninsula in the Black Sea, with a population of just over 2
million people, has stepped into the spotlight of the world stage.
The West has been preparing sanctions and at the same time telling
Moscow that there is a way out of an economic and diplomatic
showdown: Talk to Ukraine’s new government and don’t intervene
Moscow has denounced the events that led to Yanukovych’s ouster as
an illegitimate coup and has refused to recognize the new Ukrainian
Yanukovych, currently in Russia, insists he is still the legitimate leader
of Ukraine and has vowed to return to Kiev “as soon as the
He fled Kiev on February 22 after three months of protests against
his decision to scrap a trade deal with the European Union and
embrace closer ties with Russia.
Putin has said his government has the right to protect ethnic Russians
Unarmed military and civilian observers from the Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe are now on the ground in the
city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, the regional security bloc said
via Twitter. The team was repeatedly turned back from entering
Crimea by armed men.
A report by the OSCE observer team said that although it was
prevented from entering Crimea, its “observations produced significant
evidence of equipment consistent with the presence of Russian
Federation military personnel (in the vicinity of) the various
The evidence included Russian pattern uniforms and equipment
without identifying patches, as well as trucks bearing license plate
numbers associated with Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the observers
“This report adds to our deep concerns and clearly suggests direct
involvement by the Russian Federation and its agents in preventing
impartial, unarmed observers from doing the work they are supposed
to do,” U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer said.
“Russian encouragement of and support for illegal checkpoints is
Meanwhile, the United Nations said assistant secretary-general for
human rights, Ivan Simonovic, had canceled a visit to Crimea —
primarily because of the logistical challenges at Simferopol airport and
because he had been informed by authorities that he could not be
Aid package clears early hurdle
Eight U.S. senators, led by Arizona Republican Sen. John
McCain, are scheduled to travel to Ukraine in coming days.
Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a
package of loans and aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, along with
sanctions against Russia for its military intervention. The measure,
which now heads to the full Senate, also includes the approval of
long-delayed reforms at the International Monetary Fund.
The aid package includes $1 billion in loan guarantees from the United
States as well as $50 million to boost democracy-building in Ukraine
and $100 million for enhanced security cooperation for Ukraine and
some of its neighbors.
The full Senate will vote on the package after the chamber returns
from a recess.
“It always takes time to make good things,” Yatsenyuk said Wednesday
night, adding that his country praised the United States for its
Russia: ‘Absolutely legitimate’
Russian officials have compared Crimea’s potential departure from
Ukraine to Kosovo’s secession from Serbia after many years of bloody
civil war with its former neighbor.
Western governments recognized the separation over bitter opposition
from Serbia and its historical allies in Moscow.
In a written statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry cited it as a
precedent for the “absolutely legitimate” Crimean vote.
“The Russian Federation will respect the results of the free vote of
Crimea’s people during the referendum,” it said.
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