KIEV, Ukraine — Russia has “days, not weeks” to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv warned Monday as Vice-President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kyiv of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.
Biden, the highest-ranking American official to visit Ukraine during its conflict with Russia, planned to meet with government officials in the capital of Kyiv today.
The vice-president also planned to announce new technical support to help the fledgling government with energy and economic reforms.
Biden’s trip comes days after the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and Europe signed an agreement in Geneva calling for Moscow to use its influence to get pro-Russian forces to leave the numerous government buildings they now occupy in cites throughout eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. asserted on Monday that publicly available photographs from Twitter and other media show that some of the troops in eastern Ukraine are Russian special forces, and the U.S. said the photos support its case that Moscow is using its military to stir unrest in Ukraine.
There was no way to immediately verify the photographs, which were either taken from the Internet or given to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last week by Ukraine diplomats.
In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected charges that Moscow was behind the troubles in eastern Ukraine and failing to live up to the Geneva agreement.
“Before putting forth ultimatums to us, demanding fulfilment of something within two-three days or otherwise be threatened with sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully recognize responsibility for those whom they brought to power and whom they are trying to shield, closing their eyes to the outrages created by this regime and by the fighters on whom this regime leans,” Lavrov told a news conference.
Words and actions by Ukrainian leaders are “absolutely unacceptable,” he declared.
The U.S. has warned that it will quickly order new economic sanctions on Russian officials and entities if Moscow doesn’t follow through on the provisions in last week’s accord. Gregory Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said it was still too early to tell whether the deal would succeed, but he added, “The ball is really in Moscow’s court in terms of whether they’re going to take this diplomatic off-ramp.”
“There needs to be concrete results,” Pyatt told reporters in Kyiv. He said the U.S. would make a decision on whether the agreement is working in “days, not weeks.”
While last week’s agreement offered a glimmer of hope that the crisis in Ukraine could be resolved peacefully, the accord appears to be fragile at best.
The armed pro-Russia groups have refused to leave their occupying positions in eastern Ukraine until the country’s acting government resigns.
And there was a burst of violence Sunday, with three people killed during a shootout at a checkpoint that was manned by pro-Russian troops.