After authorizing sanctions against Russia early Thursday, United States President Barack Obama said during a surprise White House press conference that a referendum being considered in Crimea would violate international law if approved.
“The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law,” Obama said that same afternoon from Washington, DC.
The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is expected to hold a referendum on March 16 to decide on the fate of the peninsula, and people there could vote to either remain aligned with Ukraine or join the Russian Federation.
“Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine,” Pres. Obama said, while advocating for “a way to resolve this crisis that respects the interests of the Russian Federation as well as the Ukrainian people.”
Moments after the president concluded his remarks, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the administration’s stance at a press conference in Rome, Italy.
“Crimea is part of Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine. And we support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the government of Ukraine needs to be involved in any kind of decision with respect to any part of Ukraine. Any referendum on Ukraine is going to have to be absolutely consistent with Ukrainian law,” Kerry said.
“Therefore,” he added, “the proposed referendum would violate the constitution of Ukraine and international law and the sovereignty of Ukraine itself.”
The administration’s remarks come in the wake of Washington’s announcement earlier Thursday that the US has begun imposing sanctions against Russia, including visa restrictions against anyone “who threatens the sovereignty” of Ukraine, Obama said.
“Pres Obama has been clear that we cannot allow Russia or any country to defy international law with impunity,” Sec. Kerry added. “There’s no place in the community of nations for the kind of aggression and steps that we have seen taken in Crimea and Ukraine in these last days.”