KIEV, Ukraine — The head of Ukraine's new pro-Western government will meet with President Barack Obama this week, the White House announced Sunday, as a defiant Russia took further steps to consolidate its hold on Crimea.
The announcement of Wednesday's meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk came as pro-Russia forces extended their reach in Crimea, surrounding a border post in the far west and blocking Ukrainian TV broadcasts to the heavily Russian-speaking region more than 400 miles southeast of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
There were reports of more troop movements into Crimea, with officials in Kiev estimating that 18,000 pro-Russian forces had swarmed the region, which is about the size of Massachusetts.
A whirlwind of diplomacy continued Sunday — with Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron — but there was no sign of Putin budging.
Yatsenyuk's visit was announced Sunday by Tony Blinken, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "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," Blinken said on NBC's Meet the Press.
Raising concerns of unrest beyond Crimea, local news media and Russia's Interfax news agency reported that hundreds of activists brandishing Russian flags had broken into a government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk. They reportedly forced the mayor to resign and raised the Russian flag over the building. The incursion occurred two days after a similar protest in the eastern city of Donetsk was put down by authorities loyal to the new government in Kiev.
But Crimea remained the core of concern. According to a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian coast guard, most Ukrainian broadcasts were jammed beginning midafternoon Sunday.
Sevastopol — home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet — was awash in Russian flags as the rest of Ukraine was celebrating the 200th birthday of national hero and poet Taras Shevchenko.
Russia held out a financial carrot to Crimea, offering 40 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) in support if the peninsula votes to join Russia in a March 16 referendum. That vote was called by pro-Russia lawmakers who seized control of Crimea's parliament on Feb. 27.
In a phone call with Putin, Merkel called the planned referendum "illegal" and urged Putin to de-escalate the situation, according to a German government spokesman. Blinken said Sunday that if the vote favors annexing Crimea to Russia, "we won't recognize it, and most of the world won't either."