Ukrainian interim Prime Minister praises U.S. for aid package
G7 nations issue strongly worded warning to Russia to halt its actions in Crimea
Pro-Russians tighten their grip of security measures ahead of Sunday referendum
U.S. ambassador to OSCE cites indications Russian forces are directly involved in Crimea
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 Russia.”
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 Committee.
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 capital.
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?