Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Ukraine on April 22 to stress US support for Kiev and steps to improve its energy security amid a crisis with neighboring Russia.
During his meetings with government leaders and civil society groups, Biden will “underscore the United States’ strong support for a united, democratic Ukraine that makes its own choices about its future path,” a White House statement said yesterday.
The announcement came just a day after Washington unveiled sanctions against six of Crimea’s breakaway leaders, including the official who signed the deal with Moscow to split the peninsula from Ukraine.
A first wave of US sanctions unveiled in March had blacklisted officials and businesspeople close to Russian President Vladimir Putin to protest Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.
While in Kiev, Biden will “consult with government officials on the international community’s efforts to help stabilize and strengthen Ukraine’s economy and to assist Ukraine in moving forward on constitutional reform, decentralization, anti-corruption efforts and free and fair
presidential elections on May 25th,” the White House said.
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Washington has repeatedly urged Moscow to de-escalate tensions and withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine’s eastern border in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Earlier yesterday, Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen seized two security buildings in Ukraine’s restive eastern rust belt amid spreading protests demanding the Russified region join Kremlin rule.
And the White House said these and other moves would figure in Biden’s talks in Ukraine.
“The vice president will discuss the latest developments in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists, apparently with the support of Moscow, continue an orchestrated campaign of incitement and sabotage to destabilize the Ukrainian state,” it said.
“In addition, the vice president will consult on the latest steps to enhance Ukraine’s short- and long-term energy security.”
Moscow has massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border after annexing the Crimean Peninsula and nearly doubled the rates it charges Kiev for natural gas.
During his visit, Biden will also “meet with various Ukrainian people to hear their aspirations and deepen the partnership between the United States and Ukraine,” according to the White House.
European Union and US diplomats are preparing their first direct talks with their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in Geneva on Thursday.