President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will spend another week closely monitoring events in Ukraine after pro-Russian separatists declared victory in a secession referendum Sunday and the new government in Kiev scrambles to prepare for its first presidential election May 25.
Pro-Russian rebels hailed the vote as a triumph in favor of self-rule while U.S. and Ukrainian officials on Sunday denounced it as illegal and just another attempt to further division and disorder.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Sunday said the referendum violated international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the U.S. would not recognize the results. She also said the U.S. is disappointed that the Russian government had not “used its influence” to prevent the referendum after Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested May 7 that it be postponed, the same day he claimed that Russian forces were pulling back from the Ukrainian border.
The U.S. has since said they have seen no evidence of Russian troops movements away from the border. Instead, Psaki said, Kremlin-backed social media and news station had encouraged residents of eastern Ukraine to vote, one which she said was even offering instructions for polling stations in Moscow.
With Ukraine teetering toward a break-off of its eastern provinces to Russia, Psaki said the international community must now focus on supporting the Ukrainian government's efforts to hold a presidential election on May 25.
“Any efforts to disrupt this democratic process will be seen clearly for what they are, attempts to deny the rights of Ukraine's citizens to express their political will freely,” she said.
The State Department's Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel will be traveling to Ukraine, Lativia and Belgium from May 12 to the 16 to stress the need for greater regional support for Ukraine's upcoming elections.
While the tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to mount, Obama will move forward with a moderately busy week full of pre-scheduled events. On Monday morning he will be juggling efforts to monitor the situation in Ukraine with a visit from the President Jose Mujica Cordano of Uruguay. That afternoon, he and Vice President Joe Biden will honor the 2014 National Association of Police Organizations Top Cops award winners.
The next day, the president will deliver the highest military award the country's bestows. Obama will award Kryle White, a former active duty Army sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry for his actions while serving in the Nuristan Province in Afghanistan on Nov. 8, 2007. White will be the seventh living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama then will spend Wednesday in New York City where the president will host an event on the economy and attend two fundraisers.
On Thursday, the Obamas will help dedicate the National September 11th Memorial and Museum, and on Friday the president will attend meetings at the White House.