WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will meet this week with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the White House said Sunday, in a prominent show of U.S. support for Ukraine's fledgling new government.
Vice President Joe Biden cut short his trip to Latin America, nixing a planned stop in the Dominican Republic so he can attend Wednesday's meeting, an aide to Biden said. Biden had been the White House's prime point of contact with Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovich, before he fled to Russia last month following violent clashes in Kiev.
Obama's White House meeting with Yatsenyuk will focus on options to peacefully resolve Russia's military invention in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the White House said, adding that the resolution must respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. By inviting Yatsenyuk, whose government Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged took power by way of an unconstitutional coup, the U.S. is also sending a clear signal to Moscow that the U.S. considers Yatsenyuk to be Ukraine's legitimate leader — at least for the time being.
"What we've seen is the president mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and to reassure our allies and partners," said Tony Blinken, Obama's deputy national security adviser, as he announced the meeting Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The announcement came as the Kremlin was beefing up its military presence in Crimea ahead of a planned March 16 referendum on whether Crimea should break way from Ukraine and join Russia. Putin defended the separatist drive as in keeping with international law, but Yatsenyuk vowed not to relinquish "a single centimeter" of his country's territory. Obama has warned that the vote would violate international law.
Biden, who was traveling Sunday to Chile to attend the swearing-in of the country's new president, had been expected to travel later in the week to the Dominican Republican to meet with President Danilo Medina. But Biden has canceled that stop and will return to Washington on Tuesday, in time for Obama's meeting with Yatsenyuk on Wednesday, the vice president's office said. The White House said Biden planned to reschedule his trip to the Dominican Republic.
Vacationing with his family over the weekend in Key Largo, Fla., Obama on Saturday spoke individually with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande, and collectively with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Key Largo, Fla., contributed to this report.