President Obama should use his meeting tomorrow with Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to prove that he is on the right side of history.

While it has been more than a week since Russian forces have entered and illegally occupied key sites on the Crimean Peninsula, Obama has been virtually silent on the issue.

Tomorrow’s meeting is an opportunity for Obama to send a message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s imperial behavior, more akin to Russia’s19th century actions, should be condemned.  And the Ukrainian people need more than a photo-op in the Rose Garden.

As The Heritage Foundation has pointed out with its recent analysis, there are steps that Obama can undertake immediately in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea:

  • Declare the upcoming referendum illegal. On March 16th  Russia plans to hold a referendum for the Crimean people­ — an attempt to offer post-facto legitimacy to its illegal military intervention and occupation of Crimea. It is likely the outcome of the referendum will be engineered to support Moscow’s aims. The U.S. should declare the referendum illegitimate.
  • Show Commitment to NATO.The U.S. and its allies in NATO should publically and privately reassure member states that border Ukraine or Russia that the alliance is prepared to defend the territorial integrity of its member states.
  • Export American Liquefied Natural Gas to Ukraine and Eastern Europe.American natural gas resources would temporarily ease Ukrainian dependence on Russian natural gas and send a strong signal to the region. U.S. natural gas exports would have the further benefit of helping to create a freer market for energy in Ukraine in the long term.
  • Stop holding aid to Ukraine hostage to politics. The Obama administration is wrong to insist that aid to Ukraine be linked to the passage of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “reform package.” The “reform package” actually is a set of changes that diminish U.S. influence in the IMF. Furthermore, the changes could lessen accountability for governments that make reckless financial decisions, presenting a significant moral hazard. Ukraine needs immediate financial aid. The administration’s linkage to the IMF reform package is unfair to Ukrainians and the American public.
  • Hit the oligarchs where it hurts. In conjunction with working with America’s European partners, Washington should implement targeted sanctions aimed directly at Russian officials responsible for violating Ukrainian sovereignty, including freezing financial assets and imposing visa bans.

What Russia is doing is unprecedented in the 21st century. The last time one country invaded and annexed another was when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in the early 1990s. Obama cannot ignore what is happening in Eastern Europe while hoping that it will simply disappear. Russians respect strength and consistency, neither of which has been displayed by Obama or his European counterparts. Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk offers a perfect opportunity to show the world that the U.S. is on the right side of history