Obama meets with Ukraine PM, as US tries to calm crisis ahead of Crimea vote

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The Obama administration and Congress are moving on several fronts to try and calm the Ukraine stand-off — and pressure Russia to cooperate — ahead of a looming Crimea referendum which could further inflame the crisis.

President Obama, in a diplomatic snub at Russia, met Wednesday with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House.

Sitting side by side in the Oval Office with Yatsenyuk, Obama said he hoped last-ditch diplomatic efforts might lead to a “rethinking” of Sunday’s referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia. If the vote does occur, Obama said, “We will not recognize any referendum that goes forward.”

He warned that Russia could face “costs” and blasted the “slapdash election” as one being done at “the barrel of a gun.”

Yatsenyuk said Ukraine will “never surrender” in the fight over its territory. “Ukraine is and will be part of the Western world,” Yatsenyuk said in English.

The developments come ahead of a scheduled Crimea vote on Sunday on whether to split off from Ukraine and join Russia. The United States and its top allies are presenting a united front against that referendum, arguing that the results will not be legitimate.

But, applying a carrot-and-stick approach, the U.S. is both courting and pressuring Russia. As Obama met Wednesday with the new Ukrainian prime minister, Secretary of State John Kerry announced plans to travel to London to again meet with Russia’s foreign minister in the hopes of calming the Ukraine crisis ahead of Sunday’s vote.

“Nothing justifies a military intervention that the world has witnessed,” Kerry told a House panel on Wednesday morning. He said he would travel Thursday evening to London in order to meet Friday with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, and present a series of “choices” for the Russian government.

Kerry argued that there are ways to resolve the stand-off and protect Russia’s interests in the region. He added: “We will do what we have to do if Russia cannot find a way to make the right choices here.”

In anticipation of that vote, the G7 world leaders said Wednesday they will not recognize that decision. The leaders of the seven nations, including the United States, said in a statement that any attempt by Russia to change the status of Crimea would be a violation of international law and a referendum to annex Crimea “would have no legal effect.”

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