US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Kiev yesterday in a show of support for the fledgling pro-Western government, as Russia accused Ukraine of reneging on an international accord meant to defuse tensions over its separatist east.
Biden’s two-day visit comes with the clock ticking on a White House warning of further sanctions against Moscow if it fails to implement the deal hammered out on Thursday last week with the Ukraine, US and EU in Geneva.
Russia has lashed out at claims that it is dragging its feet on implementing the deal, laying the blame squarely on Kiev for violating the agreement.
“The Geneva accord is not only not being fulfilled, but steps are being taken, primarily by those who seized power in Kiev, that are grossly breaching the agreements reached,” Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov said at a Moscow press conference.
The pact was badly undermined by a deadly weekend shootout in Ukraine’s restive east on Sunday and the obstinate refusal of pro-Kremlin militants who have seized control of nearly a dozen towns in the region to stand down.
The accord calls for all “illegal armed groups” in Ukraine to surrender their weapons and halt the occupation of public sites.
Washington has warned Moscow, which it believes is pulling the strings in Ukraine’s insurgency, that time is running out for the accord to be put into practice.
The White House said Biden — who has emerged as US President Barack Obama’s pointman on the crisis — would “consult on the latest developments in east Ukraine” during his trip.
Yesterday, he was due to speak with US embassy officials in Kiev and today he is to meet Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and lawmakers.
Moscow has said it will not tolerate further US sanctions if the deal falls apart, while stressing that it has tens of thousands of troops massed on Ukraine’s doorstep.
A bullish Lavrov said that efforts to cut Moscow off from the international community through sanctions would prove fruitless.
In Ukraine’s east, the situation appeared calm yesterday, with insurgents still firmly entrenched in public buildings they have occupied for over a week.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday passed a law making it easier for native Russian speakers and those who can prove they or their families have lived within the borders of the former Russian empiresor Soviet Union to get citizenship.
The move is another assertion of Putin’s right to protect Russian speakers across the former USSR, following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and was pushed through in just three weeks.