Ukraine crisis: Joe Biden warns Russia ‘time is short’ for it to ease tensions

US Vice-President threatens Moscow with further sanctions if it does not comply with Geneva Accord

US Editor

The sparring between Russia and the West over the turmoil in eastern Ukraine intensified as United States Vice-President Joe Biden told Moscow that “time is short” for it to comply with an accord reached in Geneva last week on lowering tensions in the region if it is to avoid new punitive sanctions.

Worsening the tensions, the acting Ukrainian president, Oleksander Turchynov, vowed to intervene after the discovery of the body of a politician from his own party in the city of Slovyansk. The victim, he said, had been “brutally tortured”. “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.”

As Mr Biden made his remarks on a high-profile visit to Kiev, the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, told parliament in Moscow he was confident the country could “minimise” the impact of additional sanctions. “We will not allow our citizens to become hostages of political games,” he added.

 

The accord hammered out in Geneva by Western powers, Russia and Ukraine last week appeared to be on life-support. Pro-Russia militants in several cities in eastern Ukraine have refused to lay down their arms and remain in control of several government buildings. Kiev said that one of its spotter planes in the area had been struck by bullets but had landed safely.

While Moscow denies it is encouraging the rebellion, Mr Biden, who has returned to Washington, insisted the onus was on Moscow to end the crisis. “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 told reporters. “We will not allow this to become an open- ended process. Time is short in which to make progress.”

He also called on President Vladimir Putin to pull back Russian troops deployed close to Ukraine’s border in Russia. “No nation should threaten its neighbours by amassing troops along the border. We call on Russia to pull these forces,” he said after meeting the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Tonight the US said it was sending troops to eastern Europe. On Monday officials in Washington said they would act “within days” to intensify sanctions on Russia if progress on implementing the Geneva pact is not made. But in Brussels, top European Union diplomats signalled that new sanctions, though under preparation, were not imminent. “We are still thinking about giving the Geneva Accord a little bit more time,” one diplomat said.

Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, confirmed the delay. “Clearly throughout this discussion, what happens in terms of sanctions is very much dependent on what is happening on the ground in Ukraine.”

Even as Mr Biden used his trip to offer symbolic support to the Ukrainian interim government, including pledging $50m more in aid, some of which will be earmarked to fund the elections next month, he also had strong words for its shortcomings, notably regarding endemic graft in the system.

“To be very blunt... you have to fight the cancer of corruption,” he said.

In a meeting with leading members of parliament, including several candidates for the presidency, Biden spoke of the “heroism” of Ukrainians and of the “humiliating threats” they face in trying to create a united nation: “Getting it right is within your grasp,” he said. “And we want to be your partner, your friend in the project. And we’re ready to assist.”

Mr Medvedev confirmed during his parliament speech that Russia is bracing itself for new sanctions from the West over Ukraine. “We will not give up on co-operation with foreign companies, including from Western countries, but we will be ready for unfriendly steps,” he declared.

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