In a diplomatic dig at Russia, President Barack Obama is hosting the new Ukrainian prime minister at the White House, a high-profile gesture aimed at cementing the West’s allegiance to Ukraine’s fledgling government.
The meeting Wednesday between Obama and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk comes as a pro-Russian area of Ukraine readies for a referendum Sunday to determine its future. Voters in the Crimean Peninsula will be given two options: becoming part of Russia, or remaining in Ukraine with broader powers.
The U.S. and Europe have declared the referendum illegitimate, saying Ukraine’s central government must be involved in decisions about its territory. The dispute over the future of the former Soviet republic has conjured up echoes of the Cold War tensions between East and West.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Yatsenyuk’s visit was meant to signal “that we strongly support Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government.”