President Barack Obama joined the new leader of Ukraine on Wednesday in emphasizing that the United States stands with the country in its simmering conflict with Russia, and that a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Crimea is the best way forward.
“There’s another path available and we hope President Putin is willing to seize that path,” Obama said during an appearance at the White House with interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “But if he does not, I’m very confident that the international community will stand firmly behind the Ukrainian government.”
With Russian troops controlling the Crimea region of Ukraine and Crimea preparing to vote on a referendum to split from Ukraine, Obama said the new government in Kiev remains open to negotiations with Moscow “that could lead to a different arrangement for the Crimean region, but that is not something that could be done with a gun pointed at you.”
Obama called on Congress to act swiftly in passing a $1-billion loan guarantee to help support Ukraine’s fragile economy, which has teetered in the aftermath of the uprising that led to the ouster of the former Kremlin-allied president Viktor Yanukovych. A Senate committee voted late Wednesday to approve an aid package that still needs to go before the full body for a vote.
Seated next to Obama, Yatsenyuk called on Russia to work through diplomatic channels to resolve the standoff.
“Mr. President, it’s all about freedom,” he said. “We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty and we will never surrender.”
In conjunction with talks held Wednesday, the Obama administration announced a deepening of the “strategic partnership” with Ukraine on issues including energy, science, nuclear security and non-proliferation. Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs Carlos Pascual will visit Kiev this month in an effort to improve energy efficiency and the development of alternative energy sources in Ukraine, which has been heavily dependent on Russian energy subsidies and resources.