In Meeting With Obama, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Embraces the West

As the standoff in Crimea continues, the two leaders meet at the White House.

President Obama and Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros and Marina Koren
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Matt Vasilogambros Marina Koren
March 12, 2014, 12:16 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama said Wed­nes­day that there would be “costs to Rus­sia’s vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al law and en­croach­ments on Ukraine,” con­tinu­ing his strong lan­guage as the volat­ile situ­ation un­folds.

In an Oval Of­fice meet­ing with Ukrain­i­an Prime Min­is­ter Ar­sen­iy Yat­seny­uk, Obama praised “the cour­age of the Ukrain­i­an people” and their right to “de­term­ine their own des­tiny,” but also de­livered a stern warn­ing to Rus­sia.

“We have been very clear that we con­sider the Rus­si­an in­cur­sion in­to Crimea “¦ to be a vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al law,” Obama said. “We will stand with Ukraine and the Ukrain­i­an people to in­sist that ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity is main­tained.”

The new Ukrain­i­an lead­er re­mained de­fi­ant and said his coun­try would “nev­er sur­render” to Rus­si­an ac­tion.

“Ukraine is and will be part of the West­ern world,” Yat­seny­uk told re­port­ers after the meet­ing, an idea that Putin fears.

The prime min­is­ter said that if Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin suc­ceeds in Crimea, he might turn to in­vad­ing oth­er parts of  the coun­try. To that point, Yat­seny­uk said Ukraine is “ab­so­lutely ready and open to talks with the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion” to find a peace­ful path for­ward.

The meet­ing was held to dis­cuss strategies for a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion to Rus­sia’s mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in Crimea, a sov­er­eign ter­rit­ory of Ukraine. The talks come just days be­fore a ref­er­en­dum by the Crimean Par­lia­ment to de­term­ine wheth­er the re­gion should se­cede and be­come part of Rus­sia.

The near-bank­rupt Ukraine is cur­rently ra­cing to se­cure funds to re­pay bil­lions in for­eign debt. The U.S. re­cently pledged $1 bil­lion in loan guar­an­tees to Ukraine. Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry said Monday that U.S. fin­an­cial as­sist­ance to Ukraine would be il­leg­al. Mon­et­ary aid, Rus­si­an of­fi­cials ar­gue, would vi­ol­ate a U.S. law that bars fin­an­cial as­sist­ance for re­gimes that use force to take power (Mo­scow con­siders Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych’s ouster to be a coup).

U.S. in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine goes bey­ond po­ten­tial eco­nom­ic aid. The U.S., along with Bri­tain and Rus­sia, is party to a 1994 agree­ment that guar­an­tees cer­tain se­cur­ity as­sur­ances to Ukraine. After the So­viet Uni­on col­lapsed, Ukraine sur­rendered its en­tire nuc­le­ar-weapons stock­pile — the third largest in the world at the time — in ex­change for re­spect of its in­de­pend­ence and ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity. Ukraine’s act­ing pres­id­ent, Oleksandr Turchynov, said Wed­nes­day that “if this agree­ment is vi­ol­ated, it may lead to nuc­le­ar pro­lif­er­a­tion around the world.” If nuc­le­ar weapons enter the equa­tion, the U.S. may be forced to re­con­sider its ex­act role in the con­flict.

Yat­seny­uk is mak­ing the most out of his vis­it to the U.S. He will also meet Wed­nes­day with Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, House Speak­er John Boehner, and sev­er­al sen­at­ors. He will ad­dress the United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil on Thursday in New York.

White House spokes­man Jay Car­ney said the meet­ing sends the mes­sage to Mo­scow that Wash­ing­ton fully sup­ports the new gov­ern­ment of Ukraine. Putin will likely hear the mes­sage loud and clear, but it won’t change the course of ac­tion for his ad­min­is­tra­tion. By seek­ing as­sist­ance from the U.S. and oth­er West­ern powers, the new lead­er­ship in Kiev is try­ing to drag Ukraine out of Rus­sia’s sphere of in­flu­ence. However, with Rus­si­an troops firmly planted on Crimean soil, it may be too early for Putin to be wor­ried.

Amer­ic­an politi­cians are also go­ing to Ukraine to mon­it­or the situ­ation. John Mc­Cain and sev­en oth­er sen­at­ors are head­ing to the coun­try to meet with the new gov­ern­ment and act­iv­ist groups on Thursday.

Mean­while, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry is head­ing to Lon­don to meet with Rus­si­an For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lav­rov to dis­cuss Ukraine, a pos­sible sign that there is dip­lo­mat­ic pro­gress.

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