US Vice President Joe Biden has warned Russia “it’s time to stop talking and start acting” to reduce tension in Ukraine, offering a show of support for the besieged nation as an international agreement aimed at stemming its ongoing crisis appeared in doubt.
Standing alongside acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Biden on Tuesday called on Moscow to encourage pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine to vacate government buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and “address their grievances politically”.
Biden said Russia needs to act “without delay,” adding: “We will not allow this to become an open-ended process.”
Yatsenyuk was harsher in his characterisation of Russia. “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.”
The warnings for Russia from both leaders demonstrated the fragility of last week’s multinational agreement.
Biden also announced the United States will provide an additional $US50 million ($A53.78 million) to help Ukraine’s beleaguered government with political and economic reforms.
The money includes $US11 million to help conduct the May 25 presidential election, including voter education, administration and oversight. It also will help fund expert teams from US government agencies to help Ukraine to reduce its reliance on energy supplies from Russia. Other technical advisers will help fight corruption.
The White House also announced $US8 million in non-lethal military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, including bomb-disposal equipment, communications gear and vehicles.
In the most high-level visit of a US official since the crisis erupted, Biden met privately with Yatsenyuk and acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov.
Earlier, he told leaders from various political parties that he brings a message of support from President Barack Obama as they face a historic opportunity to usher in reforms.
The developments came as Senator John McCain, who recently visited the region, described US allies in Eastern Europe as “extremely nervous” about the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an MSNBC interview, the Arizona Republican called on Obama to give the Ukrainian government “some weapons to defend themselves”.
McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said America must show more support for countries under siege.
That doesn’t mean the United States “must fight” every war, he said, but “the only thing that Putin understands is a strong, viable alliance.”
Biden’s visit comes at a critical time, days after a tenuous international agreement was reached to de-escalate violence in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia insurgents oppose the government in Kiev.
“You face very daunting problems and some might say humiliating threats that are taking place indirectly,” Biden told the Ukrainian MPs.
Biden told the MPs a priority for the US is to help them 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.”
The US vice-president said Ukraine had an historic chance now that former President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the country.
“This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution,” Biden said in a reference to 2004 protests that overturned a widely criticised election that had given Yanukovych the presidency.
Yanukovych later took office but left the country after violent protests in February.
“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,” Biden said.