Obama, Ukraine PM Warn Putin of Invasion "Cost"

Obama, Ukraine PM Warn Putin of Invasion "Cost"
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Ukraine’s prime minister, visiting President Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday, accused Russia of seeking to invade all of Ukraine after a threatened annexation of the Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the lanky 39-year-old lawyer and economist appointed after the Ukrainian parliament’s ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych last month, said Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to negotiate. He said his government has sought talks with Moscow leading up to Sunday’s referendum in Crimea on secession, but without success.

Obama and Yatsenyuk reiterated their warnings that the world community would reject any Russian encroachment into Ukraine as unconstitutional and unlawful, and that Russia would bear “a cost.”

“We urge Russia to stick to its international commitments and obligations, and to stop this unacceptable military intervention into a sovereign and independent state,” the prime minister said. “We will never surrender, and we will do everything in order to preserve the stability and independence of my country.”

Asked if he believed Putin would pull back troops from Crimea, where Putin argues he’s protecting Ukrainians allied with Russia, Yatsenyuk said the answer hinged on the Russian president’s goals.

“If he wants to redraw the lines and to change or undermine the entire global security, and to revise the outcomes of the Second World War, they will move forward. In this case, the idea is not just to annex Crimea but to invade central Ukraine, [the] Ukrainian capital, and to start the war,” he told reporters outside the West Wing lobby.

“So my message to President Putin: Mr. Putin, tear down this wall, the wall of war intimidation and military aggression. Let’s stop. Let’s calm down,” he said in a forceful voice before departing the White House.

Obama and the prime minister, who met for about an hour, offered a display of bilateral solidarity, but no new ideas that might end the impasse. Russia’s intransigence threatens to trigger international sanctions that would punish Moscow as Ukraine attempts to shore up its fledgling government before May elections.

The two leaders used vivid language to denounce Russia’s threatening posture toward its neighbor. Obama said Russia would not achieve its ends in Crimea as long as “the barrel of a gun” is pointed at Ukraine’s citizens.

Yatsenyuk, in easy English, said it is “difficult to have any kind of talks having the barrel knocked at your head, mainly in case of this barrel is made in Russia.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in the Oval Office with Obama, is expected to travel to London to meet again this week with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, before the March 16 referendum in Crimea.

“We will continue to say to the Russian government that if it continues on the path that it is on, then not only us, but the international community, the European Union and others, will be forced to apply a cost to Russia's violations of international law,” Obama repeated.

The president has delivered that message privately to Putin in several terse telephone calls, and Kerry has pressed identical warnings a number of times with Lavrov, who has complained that Russia does not respond well to threats.

Obama also encouraged Congress to send him a $1 billion aid package to help Ukraine’s economy. A version of such legislation has cleared the House, but without provisions tied to the International Monetary Fund, which the administration prefers. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday sent the full Senate a different measure that blends aid to Ukraine with sanctions language. That measure, which includes the IMF reforms sought by the White House, is unlikely to come to the Senate floor until after a planned recess next week. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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