International community would "stand strongly" behing Kiev, Obama says, as visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk expresses intent on holding ground against Russia's moves.
WASHINGTON D.C. - U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russia on Wednesday that it would pay a price for its incursion in Ukraine unless the Kremlin changes course.
"If it [Russia] 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 and its encroachments on Ukraine," said Obama during a press conference with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House.
"There's another path available, and we hope that President Putin is willing to seize that path. But if he does not, I'm very confident that the international community will stand strongly behind the Ukrainian government in preserving its unity and its territorial integrity."
Yatsenyuk rose to the premiership following three months of street protests that led to the ouster of former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Russia does not recognize the new government in Kiev.
Russian troops invaded Crimea nearly two weeks ago under the pretext of providing security for the region’s ethnic Russians. Crimea is set to hold a referendum this weekend on its future with Ukraine, but the vote has come under international criticism.
“We completely reject a referendum patched together in a few weeks with Russian military personnel basically taking over Crimea,” said Obama.
He noted that there was a constitutional process in place to revise Ukraine’s relations with Crimea, but said it was “not something that can be done with the barrel of a gun pointed at you.”
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said that Kiev stood ready and willing to hold talks with Moscow, but “so much will depend on whether Russia wants to have these talk and whether Russia wants to have Ukraine as a partner or as a subordinate.”
He said that his country was firmly in the West, but does not oppose an opening with Russia.
Yatsenyuk added that Ukraine would fiercely defend its independence, saying, “We will never surrender, and we will do everything in order to preserve the stability and independence of my country.”
Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that sanctions the U.S. could bring to bear on Russia “can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made. And it can get ugly in multiple directions.
“We will do what we have to do if Russia cannot find a way to make the right choices here,” Kerry said.
Kerry will travel to London tomorrow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday.
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