U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is calling for Russia to live up to its recent agreement to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, adding that the country is "in the struggle for its very future." Biden also warned Kyiv it must tackle the "cancer of corruption."
During a joint appearance Tuesday with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Biden said it is time for Russia "to stop talking and start acting" on commitments it made last week during international talks in Geneva to withdraw support for pro-Russian separatist forces who have taken over government buildings in eastern Ukraine,
"We've heard a lot from Russian officials in the past few days. But now it's time for Russia to stop talking and start acting," he said. "We will not allow this to become an open ended process. Time is short in which to make progress."
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The U.S. vice president said Ukraine "is and must remain one country." He said the United States would not let Ukraine "walk down this road alone... we will walk it with you."
Biden also said the U.S. would provide an additional $50 million for the Ukrainian government, including $11 million to help fund the May 25 presidential election.
A White House statement Tuesday said the United States will provide Kyiv with $8 million in non-lethal military aid, including communications equipment and vehicles.
During his visit to Ukraine's capital for talks with Yatsenyuk and acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, Biden also pledged U.S. assistance in moving Ukraine to become energy independent and not have to rely on Russian natural gas.
Reports of murders, abductions
Later Tuesday, Turchynov called for anti-terrorist operations to be relaunched in eastern Ukraine. He said the bodies of two people, including a member of his own political party who was abducted last week, Volodymyr Rybak, had been found near the city of Slovyansk, which is in the hands of pro-Russian terrorists.
Turchynov said the victims had been "brutally tortured" and that such crimes are being committed "with the full support and connivance of the Russian Federation."
Meanwhile, the Russian news website Gazeta.ru on Tuesday quoted the so-called "people's mayor" of Slovyansk as saying an American journalist, Simon Ostrovsky, had been taken into custody by pro-Russian militiamen.
The media outlet for which Ostrovsky works, VICE News, said in statement that it is "in contact with the U.S. State Department and other appropriate government authorities to secure the safety and security of our friend and colleague, Simon Ostrovsky."
Meanwhile, Ukraine and Russia are blaming each other for a deadly shooting at a checkpoint set up by pro-Moscow separatists in the eastern city of Slovyansk, shattering an Easter truce. Three people were reported killed. The separatists blame gunmen with the Ukrainian nationalist Right Sector group. Kyiv authorities accuse Russian special forces of staging the murders.
The pro-Russians are demanding the right to hold referendums on seceeding from Ukraine and joining Russia. A vote last month in Crimea, condemned by the West as staged by pro-Russian forces, led to Moscow's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.
Washington has called on Moscow to live up to commitments made in Geneva last week to put more pressure on the pro-Russian protesters to vacate state buildings. Russia denies any involvement in the protests.
Blaming Kyiv for the tensions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavror told his U.S. counterpart, John Kerry, on Tuesday that authorities there must take "urgent steps" to implement the Geneva accords, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
Kremlin's 'wider project'
The White House Monday released photographs it claims show that a Russian soldier seen in eastern Ukraine this month was also in Georgia during the Russian invasion in 2008. The photographs have not been independently verified. Russia has denied having any soldiers in Ukraine. It says all pro-Russian activist there are locals.
The allegations are part of a long history of Russian interference in the region, argues Andrew Foxall of policy institute The Henry Jackson Society in London.
“I think what we’ve seen over a number of years in eastern Ukraine is the Kremlin and the Russian government effectively trying to provoke separatist sentiments. And the recent action that we’ve seen in Kharkiv and Donetsk is symptomatic of that and symbolic of this wider project that the Kremlin has been trying to undertake,” said Foxall.
Washington says it is preparing new sanctions should Russia fail to live up to the commitments made in Geneva. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russia's parliament Tuesday his country would withstand any further measures.
"We will show our teeth if it is necessary," he said, "and, within the law, we will appeal to courts and other institutions.”
NATO also is showing its teeth. Five mine-sweeping ships were deployed to the Baltic Sea Tuesday, designed to boost the alliance's preparedness and reassure eastern allies.
EU holding back on more sanctions
In Brussels, EU diplomats said the bloc was holding off from imposing further sanctions until it sees whether the Geneva deal works.
The EU has been more cautious than the United States in imposing sanctions on Russia, with some member states worried about antagonizing a country that supplies a third of Europe's gas.
Both sides stressed on Tuesday they wanted to depend less on the other over energy.
Prime Minister Medvedev said Russia was more interested than ever in diversifying its gas exports and described as "a bluff" talk of Europe importing U.S. gas as a substitute.
Partly as a result of the Ukraine crisis, the EU is stitching together measures such as raising electricity production from coal and renewables.
Henry Ridgwell contributed to this story from London. Some reporting by Reuters.