Obama ‘completely rejects’ proposed referendum in Crimea

Meeting with Ukrainian prime minister seen as show of support

President Barack Obama greets Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, during a meeting in the Oval Office yesterday. Photograph: Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

President Barack Obama greets Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, during a meeting in the Oval Office yesterday. Photograph: Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 22:06

US President Barack Obama hosted Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House in a show of support for Ukraine’s fledgling government in the face of Russia’s military actions in Crimea.

Speaking in the Oval Office after their meeting, Mr Obama said the US and the international community “completely reject” Crimea’s proposed referendum this weekend, describing it as a “slapdash election”.

Mr Obama warned that if the referendum proceeded and Russia did not back down, the international community would be “forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violation of international law”.

“There’s another path available and we hope President Putin is willing to seize that path,” Mr Obama said, “but if he does not, I’m very confident that the international community will stand firmly behind the Ukrainian government.”

The US president, sitting next to Mr Yatsenyuk, said that the Ukrainian government was willing to engage with Russia on an internal process on Crimea that “could lead to different arrangements over time” but that this was “not something that can be done with the barrel of a gun pointed at you.”

He described Crimea’s referendum on secession as a violation of international law. He rejected the notion that Ukraine had to choose between the West and Russia, describing it as a “zero-sum formulation”, according to the pooled report released by the White House on the meeting between the two leaders.

Mr Obama praised the courage of Ukrainian people for “standing up on behalf of democracy” and said that Mr Yatsenyuk “showed tremendous courage”.

The Ukrainian leader said that his country felt that the US was standing by the people of his country.

“We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty and we will never surrender,” said Mr Yatsenyuk.

Earlier in a statement issued jointly with the leading Group of Seven nations, the Obama administration insisted that the referendum “would have no legal effect” and not be recognised internationally.