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US says Russia must act 'without delay' to ease Ukraine tensions

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-22

US Vice President Joe Biden called on Russian leaders Tuesday "to act on the commitments that they made" in Geneva last week to urge pro-Russian separatists to vacate the government buildings and checkpoints they have seized in east Ukraine.

Biden said Russia must also ensure that the separatists accept the offered amnesty and begin to “address their grievances politically”.

Speaking at a news conference after talks with acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk and acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov in Kiev, Biden said Russia needs to take "concrete steps" to ease tensions in the region “without delay”, adding: “We will not allow this to become an open-ended process.”

Biden said Russia faces "more costs and greater isolation" if it keeps fuelling separatist unrest in Ukraine.

"There are some who are trying to pull Ukraine apart," he said, adding that the United States wants to see Ukraine "hold together as a single state, united and sovereign".

Yatseniuk, for his part, said Russian politicians were behaving like “gangsters”. “No country should be able to behave like an armed bandit,” he said. “Russia should stick to its international commitments and obligations. They should not behave as gangsters in the modern century.”

Biden also announced that the United States will provide an additional $50 million to help Ukraine’s beleaguered government with political and economic reforms.

The money includes $11 million to help conduct the May 25 presidential election, including voter education, administration and oversight. It also will help fund teams of US experts to help Ukraine reduce its reliance on energy supplies from Russia and to fight corruption.

The White House also announced $8 million in nonlethal military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, including bomb-disposal equipment, communications gear and vehicles.

It is the most high-level visit by a US official since the crisis erupted following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich in February.

'Torture'

Some of Biden's comments were tailored to address separatist sympathisers in eastern Ukraine, who he urged to take part in “shaping” Ukraine’s future.

“I know the men and women who hide behind masks and unmarked uniforms, they do not speak for you,” Biden said. “All are welcome as equals in shaping a new Ukraine. We count on you to be the voice for rights and freedoms.”

Just hours after Biden's remarks,Turchinov called for "anti-terrorist" operations in the east of the country to resume after the body of a local politician from his own party was found Tuesday showing signs of torture.

Turchinov said in a statement that "brutally tortured" bodies had been found near the city of Slaviansk, which is in the hands of pro-Russian militants, including that of Volodymyr Rybak, a member of Turchinov's Batkivshchyna party who had recently been abducted.

"These crimes are being carried out with the full support and indulgence of the Russian Federation," he said. "I call on the security agencies to relaunch and carry out effective anti-terrorist measures, with the aim of protecting Ukrainian citizens living in eastern Ukraine from terrorists."

Pro-Kremlin rebels in Ukraine's east claimed control overnight of the police station in the town of Kramatorsk, where they had earlier occupied the town hall.

Turchinov said the new seizure "puts a cross through all the agreements reached in Geneva", a reference to the agreement reached last week in talks between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

‘Keep your gas’

Biden told a gathering of Ukrainian lawmakers that it was a US priority to help the country become independent from Russian energy supplies.

“Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia, ‘Keep your gas’,” Biden said. “It would be a very different world you’d be facing today.”

Biden said the lawmakers now have an historic chance to alter the nation's destiny, and that fighting corruption should be a priority.

“This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution,” Biden said, in a reference to the protests that successfully overturned the results of a widely criticised 2004 election.

Biden added, “To be very blunt about it – and this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament – but you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now.”

“I want you to know I do not underestimate the incredible pressure you all are under,” Biden said. “I do not underestimate the challenge that you all face. And I do not underestimate the frustration you must feel when someone like me comes along and says this is a great opportunity for you.”

But he added that the upcoming election may be the most important in the country’s history. “The truth of the matter is your fellow countrymen expect a whole lot of you right now,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

 

Date created : 2014-04-22

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