As the U.S. and its allies eye further action against Russia, Ukraine’s new prime minister Wednesday passionately accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of seeking to seize control of the Crimean Peninsula and fomenting all-out war in a bid to “revise the outcomes” of World War II.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk spoke minutes after an Oval Office meeting. President Obama underscored how strongly the U.S. is backing Ukraine’s new government by warning Mr. Putin that the outside world would never recognize the results of the Moscow-planned “slap dash” referendum on Crimean independence from Ukraine.
“We completely reject a referendum patched together in a few weeks with Russian military personnel basically taking over Crimea. We reject its legitimacy. … We will not recognize, certainly, any referendum that goes forward,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Yatsenyuk said Moscow is trying, contrary to Mr. Putin’s claims about trying to protect ethnic Russians and military assets, to stoke further conflict and reclaim land and influence through force.
“If he wants to have the stability, the peace and prosperity in Europe, he has to pull back and start real talks. 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,” the Ukrainian leader said in brief but passionate remarks to reporters outside the White House.
“In this case, the idea is not just to annex Crimea but to invade central Ukraine, Ukrainian capital, and to start the war. My message to President Putin — Mr. Putin, tear down this wall. The wall of war, intimidation and military aggression. Let’s talk. Let’s calm down,” he said, echoing one of the most famous lines of President Reagan, widely regarded as a hero in much of the former Soviet bloc.
The leaders met just days before Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine and potentially join Russia.
After prolonged violent protests, Ukrainians last month ousted their pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and has been in a state of turmoil.
Mr. Yatsenyuk took the prime minister’s office on an interim basis after having turned down Mr. Yanukovych’s offer of the same position because of their disagreements over whether Ukraine should tilt toward Russia or Western Europe.
After Mr. Yanukovych fled the capital city of Kiev, Russian troops moved into Crimea, drawing condemnation from the U.S., its allies in Europe and even China.
In Kiev, government officials on Wednesday accused Russia of conducting a large military buildup near the border, leading to fears of an invasion.
Moscow denies Ukrainian officials’ claims that Russia has deployed more than 80,000 troops, 270 tanks and 140 combat planes near the border. The Kremlin granted permission for Ukraine to conduct surveillance flights in the area to prove its assertions.
“Russian armed forces aren’t conducting any military activities near the border of Ukraine that could threaten its security,” said Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov.
The Obama administration continues to pursue a multipronged approach while hoping for a diplomatic solution.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry will travel to London on Friday and meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in an another attempt to defuse the crisis.
Mr. Obama said Wednesday that he believes Russia can pull back and resume normal relations with Ukraine while working out an agreement that benefits both sides.
“We will continue to say to the Russian government: If it continues on the path it is on, not only us but the international community, the European Union and others will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violation of international law and its encroachments on Ukraine,” the president said after his meeting with Mr. Yatsenyuk.
“There’s another path available, and we hope President Putin is willing to seize that path. But if he is not, I’m very confident that the international community will stand strongly behind the Ukrainian government in preserving its unity and its territorial integrity,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, a Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a bill to authorize $1 billion in loan guarantees to the Ukrainian government and to authorize further sanctions against Russian individuals responsible for the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.
The White House has imposed some sanctions against Russia, revoked visas and taken other steps to punish those it deems responsible for the unrest and violence in Ukraine. The European Union is preparing further sanctions.
“In general, we need patience,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday. “We have the strength to react. We are in the 21st century. We don’t solve conflicts with military. However, we also don’t evade conflicts.”
Military buildups also are underway. The Pentagon on Wednesday said it will send 12 F-16 fighter jets to add to an Air Force detachment in Poland. NATO deployed two surveillance aircraft to monitor Ukraine’s airspace and movements in the Black Sea.
The military buildup and presence of Russian troops reduce the chances for a peaceful outcome in Ukraine.
“I want to be very clear saying that on behalf of the Ukrainian government, we are ready to negotiate,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said, but “it’s difficult to have any kind of talks having the barrel [of a gun] knocked at your head.”