Biden arrives in Kiev amid growing Ukraine-Russia tensions - 12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas

Biden arrives in Kiev amid growing Ukraine-Russia tensions

Ed Payne

A day after a deadly checkpoint shooting in eastern Ukraine, Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Kiev on Monday on a mission to signal U.S. support for the government and look for ways out of an increasingly tense showdown with Russia.

Biden will meet with Ukrainian leaders and activists during the two-day trip.

He is the latest Western representative to visit Ukraine after Russia's annexation of Crimea, the former semi-autonomous Ukrainian republic, and a series of takeovers of government buildings and other facilities in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian masked gunmen.

On Sunday, several people died in a shooting at a roadblock near the town of Slaviansk. Ukrainian officials blamed pro-Russian provocateurs, while pro-Russian leaders blamed Ukrainian nationalists.

The government of acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has talked tough but done little to curb pro-Russian activities in the east, possibly afraid that a crackdown could send Russian forces across the border. The occupation of buildings continued in about a dozen towns and cities across eastern Ukraine.

International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe continue to visit many of the affected towns but have had no success so far in persuading groups that have taken over buildings to relinquish them.

The monitors were called for in the agreement among Russia, the United States and the European Union last week that was meant to reduce tensions in the region, an area that while part of Ukraine has long looked toward Russia for cultural and economic ties.

In three towns, pro-Russian protesters and militants have made it clear to CNN they have no intention of moving until the "illegal" government in Kiev also moves out of official buildings.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov echoed those sentiments Monday, saying that Ukrainian officials were not implementing the agreement negotiated in Geneva, Switzerland.

"On the contrary, not a single step has been taken by those who have seized power in Kiev to eliminate the reasons of this deep crisis inside Ukraine," he said.

Russia has said before that it holds no sway over pro-Russian protesters and militants.

Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday that he's seen progress. He had just met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia and the ambassador who heads the OSCE's special monitoring mission, along with his European Union and Russian counterparts.

"I think we all reaffirmed today in this setting our collective commitment to trying to make the Geneva framework a success," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "There are obviously some real challenges at this point," including the violence in Slaviansk.

"But we also believe that there has been some progress. I'm seeing reports this morning that at least one of these (occupied) government buildings now has a Ukrainian flag flying over it," he said. "And the OSCE has monitors on the ground who are reaching out, engaging with local political elites, seeing if there's a way to de-escalate the crisis."

There is "no military solution" to the crisis, Pyatt said. "It has to be solved through diplomacy."

Checkpoint shooting

But the checkpoint shooting early Sunday has raised tensions in the area considerably.

According to pro-Russian groups in the town of Slaviansk, gunmen in three or four vehicles opened fire on a roadblock west of town.

Six people died, according to the new pro-Russian administration in Slaviansk.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said three people died.

Pro-Russian leaders briefly displayed what they said was the body of one of the attackers and what they described as an identity tag and card indicating the attack was carried out by the ultranationalist Ukrainian Right Sector party. They also displayed substantial amounts of ammunition and U.S. cash.

The Right Sector denied any of its members were in the area.

In the hours after the attack, the self-declared mayor of Slaviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, called for a Russian "peacekeeping force" to protect against the national guard and the Right Sector.

The Ukrainian State Security Service said in a statement that "armed offenders and saboteurs" who are terrorizing the local population in Slaviansk had "resorted to cynical provocation." Ukrainian officials say that Russia has sent special forces troops to Ukraine to provoke tensions.

On Sunday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Putin dreams of restoring the Soviet Union, which once controlled much of Eastern Europe before disintegrating in 1991.

"And every day, he goes further and further," Yatsenyuk said. "And God knows where is the final destination."

CNN's Tim Lister, Elena Sandyrev, Phil Black, Alla Eshchenko and Lena Kashkarova contributed to this report.


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