Ukraine crisis: Biden says Russia must 'start acting'

 

Joe Biden: "Ukraine faces a struggle for its very future"

US Vice-President Joe Biden has said Russia must "stop talking and start acting" to defuse the Ukraine crisis.

He was speaking after meeting interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kiev.

Mr Biden warned Russia that further "provocative behaviour" would lead to "greater isolation" and urged Moscow to end its alleged support for pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.

Separately, a Ukrainian military plane was hit by small arms fire over eastern Ukraine, the defence ministry says.

Funerals in Sloviansk, eastern Ukraine, 22 April Funerals for those killed at a pro-Russian checkpoint near Sloviansk took place on Tuesday

At the funerals

In the Church of the Holy Spirit in the centre of Sloviansk, an Orthodox priest chanted prayers for the dead. The bodies of three pro-Russian activists, shot dead at a makeshift checkpoint on Easter Sunday, lay in open coffins.

When the coffins were carried out of the church, the crowd outside shouted "Glory to the Heroes of the Donbass!" over and over again - Donbass being the name for the Don River basin. Church bells rang out.

The people I've been speaking to here are convinced that it was Ukrainian ultra-nationalists who carried out Sunday's attack. One woman told me she was proud to be Ukrainian, but that instability and violence was pushing people here to want closer ties to Russia.

The aircraft suffered minor damage over Sloviansk, which is held by pro-Russian militants, when it was targeted by automatic gunfire, according to the ministry. No-one was hurt and the plane returned safely to Kiev.

"Thanks to professional actions, military pilots managed to land the plane at the airfield without consequences," the ministry's statement said.

The Antonov An-30 aerial survey plane was carrying out surveillance at the time.

The funerals have meanwhile taken place of three men shot on Sunday during a raid on a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian separatists near Sloviansk.

The local separatists said the attack was carried out by ultra-nationalist Right Sector militants but Kiev called it a "provocation" staged by Russian special forces.

The bodies of those killed lay in open coffins at the funeral ceremony at the Church of the Holy Spirit in the centre of Sloviansk.

'Endemic' corruption

Earlier in remarks to Ukrainian MPs, Mr Biden said the US stood with Ukraine's new leaders against "humiliating threats" - an apparent reference to Russia.

The vice-president called on Moscow to urge the pro-Russian separatists to leave the buildings they are occupying in eastern Ukraine, and to abandon checkpoints.

Mr Biden also stressed the need for the new authorities to tackle corruption, adding: "The opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, getting it right is within your grasp."

The US is to provide an additional $50m for political and economic reforms in Ukraine, including $11m to help run the presidential election due on 25 May.

An further $8m is being provided for non-lethal military assistance, such as bomb disposal equipment and radios.

After meeting Mr Biden, interim PM Yatsenyuk accused Russia of behaving "as gangsters in the modern century".

The BBC's Natalia Antelava visited a protest camp in Luhansk

Flowers lay in the road as a memorial to three men shot on Easter Sunday at a checkpoint near Sloviansk Flowers lie on the road near the site of Sunday's fatal shooting
A pro-Russian militant looks out from the barricaded entrance of the city council building on 21 April 2014 in Sloviansk Pro-Russian militants are still holding official buildings in at least nine towns and cities in the Donetsk region
'Tatars banned'

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a decree to rehabilitate Crimea's Muslim Tatars and other ethnic minorities who suffered during the rule of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

After a referendum in Crimea last month, the territory was incorporated into Russia, something Mr Biden said the US would never recognise.

Crimea's Tatar community opposed the peninsula's takeover by Russia. On Tuesday, the Tatar assembly said the leader of the community, Mustafa Dzhemilev, had been banned from returning to Crimea for five years, along with his deputy.

'Men in masks'

Moscow and Washington are accusing each other of breaking last week's Geneva accord on resolving the Ukraine crisis, and the US is planning further sanctions should Russia fail to fulfil its Geneva commitments.

But Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the Russian parliament on Tuesday that Russia would be able to "minimise the consequences" of any further sanctions.

The 17 April Geneva accord stipulated an immediate end to violence in eastern Ukraine and called on illegal armed groups to surrender their weapons and leave official buildings.

Sergei Lavrov: "All signs show that Kiev can't, and maybe doesn't want to, control the extremists who continue to call the shots"

Pro-Russian militants are still holding official buildings in at least nine towns and cities in the Donetsk region.

In Kramatorsk, another building - a police station - was seized on Tuesday.

Mr Biden again accused Russia of supporting "men in masks in unmarked uniforms" who the US says are directing pro-Russian activity in the East.

Moscow denies being behind the protests and seizures of buildings.

However, Ukraine says photos released by the Ukrainian government and distributed by the US State Department show Russian soldiers among militants holding official buildings in eastern Ukraine.

Five photos provided by the Ukrainian government appear to show the same soldier (circled in red) in operations in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Ukraine, as well as a group photo showing a sabotage-reconnaissance group in the Russian Special Forces Photos released by the Ukrainian government purport to show a soldier, circled in red, in both Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, and in a photo (centre) showing a group in the Russian Special Forces

There was no immediate response to the pictures from the Russian government.

Ukraine has been in turmoil since last November, when Kiev was gripped by protests over whether the country should lean more towards Russia or Europe.

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 994.

    The Putin administration has mapped out this for awhile. All talk is to
    pacify the world. The longer this goes on the better it is for Mr.Putin.

    We all know how this will play out if the world refuses to intervene.
    We only have NOW to contain this aggressive move by Mr. Putin and his administration.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 991.

    It's really difficult to predict what will happen. Either both the EU/US & Russia stay involved, and there's a lingering fear and echo of the Cold War, or, leave Ukraine to their own devices and run the risk of a civil war.

    As others have said, if the foreign involvement escalates, a third major confrontation in Europe would be devastating not just to the continent, but to the the whole world.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 871.

    I do not know who as at fault here but I suspect the truth will be murky, grey and indeterminate.

    I do know that two major wars nearly destroyed Europe and certainly left us badly, perhaps permanently, damaged.

    The thought of another war with another major European power is heartbreaking.

    With the rest of the world encroaching on Europe this would be the final nail in our coffin.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 695.

    I would like to know what everybody has as solution? It is easy blaming others for problems but what should everybody do to get Ukraine working again?
    Easy answer: US, EU and Russia should leave them in peace.
    Anybody really believe that will happen? Anybody really believe this could have happened?
    I don´t.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 272.

    The Cold War seems to be back again with Russia and the West both seeking to exert an influence... and neither side being one whit concerned with the well-being of Ukrainian citizens (whichever bit of the country they live in or language they speak). Will either side be willing to respect the result of the upcoming elections?

 

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