United States Vice-President Joe Biden yesterday launched a high-profile visit to demonstrate the US commitment to Ukraine and push for urgent implementation of an international agreement aimed at de-escalating tensions even as violence continues.
Today Biden plans to meet leaders who took over after pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February. The White House said President Barack Obama and Biden agreed he should make the two-day visit to the capital city to send a high-level signal of support for reform efforts being pushed by the new government.
Biden has scheduled a series of meetings today, including with Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president. He also is scheduled to meet legislators from across the country and democracy activists before returning to Washington tonight.
A senior administration official said that Biden planned to announce new technical support to the Ukrainian government to implement energy and economic reforms.
The official said the vice-president would also follow up on recent US commitments of non-lethal security assistance and discuss what more Washington can offer to help.
Biden also plans to discuss preparations for next month's presidential election and the latest developments in eastern Ukraine, where insurgents are accusing leaders in Kiev of aiming to suppress the country's Russian speakers concentrated in the region.
His trip comes a day after a shoot-out at a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine manned by the pro-Russia insurgents left at least three dead and Ukrainian and Russian officials trading accusations of blame. The armed clash followed Thursday's announcement in Geneva that talks between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the European Union had produced an agreement to take tentative steps toward calming the volatile situation.
But no sooner had the accord been signed than both sides accused the other of breaking it, while the pro-Moscow rebels disavowed the pledge to withdraw from occupied buildings.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the checkpoint attack as a crime, and said Kiev was failing to implement the Geneva deal.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchitsya replied that Ukraine was participating in talks led by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe alongside Russian diplomats, who should have informed Lavrov of the steps Kiev was taking.
The US official said details surrounding the deadly clash were still murky and blamed the difficulty of monitors to get in the area for observation. The US wants the Russian government to use its influence to get pro-Russian separatists to lay down their arms.
Pro-Russia armed groups that have seized police stations and other government buildings in eastern Ukraine said they wouldn't vacate them unless the country's acting government resigned.
The new government insists it is legitimate, has no plans to resign and is working on constitutional reforms that will give eastern regions a greater voice in self-governance.