KIEV: Ukraine’s prime minister heads for talks on Wednesday with United States (US) President Barack Obama aimed at winning vital aid and moral backing amid Crimea’s plans to join Russia in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
The first meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk comes with the vast former Soviet nation in danger of breaking apart when the predominantly ethnic Russian region holds a Moscow-backed referendum on Sunday on switching over to Kremlin rule.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said his heavily outnumbered army would never try to seize back the Black Sea peninsula from Russian troops who made their land grab days after the February 22 ouster in Kiev of pro-Kremlin leader Viktor Yanukovych.
“We cannot launch a military operation in Crimea, as we would expose the eastern border and Ukraine would not be protected,” Turchynov said in an interview.
Russia’s first invasion of a neighbor since its brief 2008 war with Georgia has sparked both an explosive European security crisis and the worst breakdown in the Kremlin’s relations with the West since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
The US has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Russians held responsible for violating the territorial integrity of the culturally splintered nation of 46 million.
The European Union—its financial and energy sectors much more dependent on Russia than those of the United States—has threatened to follow suit imminently after suspending free travel and economic talks with Moscow last week.
The standoff has also seen US Secretary of State John Kerry deliver a snub of immense diplomatic proportion by refusing a visit to Moscow that could have included a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But this show of Western outrage at the actions of Putin—who once called the breakup of the Soviet Union the biggest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century—has not kept him from taking Crimea under his control and threatening to use force to “protect” the interests of ethnic Russians living in the east of Ukraine.
The international community’s almost unanimous rejection of the referendum’s legitimacy has done little to slow the pace of Russia’s attempt to redraw Europe’s post-war borders and retake a region that was only handed to Ukraine as a symbolic “gift” when it was still a part of the Soviet empire in 1954.
Russia’s parliament is due on March 21 to consider legislation that would simplify the procedure under which Moscow can annex a part of another country that has proclaimed independence—as Crimea did on Tuesday.