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White House to Ukraine: 'We Have Your Back'


US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and his wife Jill wave upon their arrival at Boryspil International airport outside Kyiv November 20, 2014.
US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and his wife Jill wave upon their arrival at Boryspil International airport outside Kyiv November 20, 2014.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, ahead of talks Friday with President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze, traveling with Biden, reported that a senior White House official characterized the vice president’s main message to Ukraine’s leaders as simply this: “we have your back.”

The official, who requested anonymity, said Biden is planning to express support for the Ukrainian people and congratulate them on holding successful elections, especially given the circumstances in the country's volitile east.

The vice president will emphasize the need for reform and assure Ukraine that the United States will support Kyiv on its path towards a democratic, European future.

“Our expectations are that Ukraine must do the necessary work to help itself,” the official said, imploring Kyiv’s pro-Western leadership to “help us, help you.”

Biden will relay the importance of ongoing anti-corruption efforts and express his hope that the newly elected parliament will form a coalition and a new government soon and begin to implement needed reforms.

None of this will be easy.

Ukraine’s economy has virtually imploded, the currency has lost nearly 50 percent of its value against the dollar in 2014, and the major industrial centers of the east – Donetsk and Luhansk – are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

“The U.S. understands more financial and other support is needed and is working with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and other organizations on this,” the White House official said.

On top of that, with Russian armored vehicles again entering eastern Ukraine at will, even the fig leaf of cease-fire in the east is gone.

In testimony earlier this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken said the White House should consider providing Ukraine with lethal, defensive military equipment.

"Our position on lethal aid has not changed. Nothing is off the table,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Thursday in Washington, in response to Blinken’s comments.

Both houses of Congress have voiced support for such aid, but the Obama administration has so far stopped short of providing lethal equipment.

Russia warned the United States on Thursday against supplying arms to Ukrainian forces fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, hours before Biden was due to arrive in Kyiv.

The senior White House official said Russia is not fulfilling the Minsk cease-fire agreement reached two months ago between the warring sides fighting in eastern Ukraine.

“While we don’t see a military solution to this crisis, Russia and its proxies seem to believe there is only a military solution, and they keep escalating the conflict,” the official said.

While the U.S. wants a diplomatic solution, it is not willing to talk on Moscow’s terms.

“One of the big challenges is that the Russians want the separatists to be directly involved. That’s not something we, nor the Ukrainians, see as particularly helpful,” the official said.

“That can legitimize a group of folks who don’t have any legitimacy.”

Myroslava Gongadze reported from Kyiv, Mark Snowiss from Washington.

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    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus