TOPICS > World

Ukraine’s interim prime minister appeals for aid during U.S. visit

March 12, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: As tensions with Russia continue to rise over Crimea, one of Ukraine’s new leaders arrived at the White House, seeking assurances from President Obama.

Hari Sreenivasan reports.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine: Well, we highly appreciate the support of the United States.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It was a public show of solidarity meant to bolster Ukraine and deter Russia. The interim Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, used it to appeal again for U.S. and Western backing.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Mr. President, it’s all about the freedom. We fight for our freedom. We fight for our independence. We fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The president said Washington does stand ready to aid Ukraine with a billion dollars in loan guarantees. And he insisted again, the U.S. will not accept Russia’s takeover of Crimea.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There’s another path available, and we hope that President Putin is willing to seize that path. But if he does not, I am very confident that the international community will stand strongly behind the Ukrainian government in preserving its unity and its territorial integrity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The White House meeting unfolded as the U.S. Navy began joint exercises with the navies of Bulgaria and Romania in the Black Sea, just across from Crimea.

Russia continues to hold Ukrainian military bases there, and says it’s acting to protect ethnic Russians. But Ukraine argues a 1994 agreement obligated Russia, the U.S. and Britain to protect its territorial integrity, after Ukraine gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

The Russians have so far ignored such claims, and Crimea plans to vote Sunday in a referendum on whether to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia. Today, the G7 countries, the U.S., plus Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, warned, “Any such referendum would have no legal effect,” and they said, “We would not recognize the outcome.”

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: It can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made. And it can get ugly in multiple directions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ahead of the Crimea vote, Secretary of State John Kerry announced he will meet with the Russian foreign minister in London on Friday. He spoke at a House hearing.

JOHN KERRY: We do not seek a world in which we have to apply additional costs to the choices that have been made thus far. But we will do what we have to do, if Russia cannot find the way to make the right choices here.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: Fourteen to three, the legislation is favorably reported to the Senate.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Any additional costs could come in the form of sanctions, endorsed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. They would target Russian officials deemed responsible for the Crimea incursion.