Resolve but no dramatics from White House on Ukraine

US President Barack Obama (R) meets with Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk (L) in the Oval Office of the White House 12 March 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Arseniy Yatsenyuk (left) may appear mild-looking, but his words were full of fire

President Obama did not quite say "Я киянин" -"I am a Kyivian" - to echo JFK's famous support for Berlin against Soviet might.

And there's no dramatic plan, like the airlift, to deal with the Ukrainian crisis. Instead a certain resolve from the US president, the threat of sanctions, and a slim hope of a diplomatic solution.

The stars and stripes and Ukraine's blue and yellow flag fluttered together on front of the acting prime minister's car as he arrived at the White House.

Mr Obama's words were tough - he said one country could not dictate to another at the barrel of a gun - the referendum planned for the Crimea was slapdash and would not be recognised.

He even explained why it wasn't like the one planned for Scotland in the autumn - in the UK there had been planning, and there were no troops on the street.

Ukraine's new prime minister looks and sounds mild. He is young, bespectacled and balding, but his words were full of fire.

He said his country is and will be part of the West, it would sign an agreement with the European Union next week, it would never surrender.

If he is right it is hard to see what the West does about it. If he is wrong, diplomacy must still have a slender chance.

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on Friday. After that, if the referendum goes ahead and if sanctions are imposed and ignored, the US is in a difficult position.

It would be something of a stalemate - or perhaps worse for the West, a stand-off where Russia could claim a measure of victory, and no-one could predict the next move.