In Ukraine, Biden Brings Array of U.S. Support
Vice President Biden arrived in Ukraine this week bringing some tangible U.S. support to a country challenged by political and military struggles both internally and from neighboring Russia.
The administration offered $50 million in new U.S. assistance to bolster free elections in Ukraine, and boost non-Russian sources of natural gas, on top of $1 billion in loan guarantees already delivered. After weeks of requests from Ukraine, the administration agreed to send it $8 million in non-lethal military aid in the form of equipment, but despite urging from Sen. John McCain and others, America’s assistance package did not include weapons.
“The United States stands with you,” Biden said during a meeting with Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “The road ahead is difficult, but you will not walk this road alone. We will walk it with you.”
As President Obama embarked Tuesday on a four-nation trip to Asia, the vice president reiterated U.S. and European calls for Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back troops massed along the Ukraine border and “stop supporting men in masks in unmarked uniforms” who are accused of seizing government buildings in Eastern Ukraine.
While Biden rebuked Russia for its annexation of Crimea and vowed that the international community would never officially recognize the territorial takeover of Ukraine’s southern peninsula, there has been no U.S. assertion that Russia must forfeit its control there.
The Obama administration on Tuesday announced it will supply the Ukraine army with explosive ordinance disposal equipment and handheld radios, plus engineering equipment, communications devices, vehicles and non-lethal individual tactical gear for the Border Guard Services.
The military supplies are in addition to $3 million in Meals Ready to Eat, and close to $7 million in health and welfare assistance already extended to Ukraine, the White House noted.
“The United States will continue to actively review requests for additional support as Ukraine’s government further modernizes its armed forces and deals with evolving threats,” the White House said in a statement.
The administration also announced it will provide $11.4 million to back democratic elections in Ukraine on May 25, through education efforts, election administration, oversight, security and what it called “a diverse, balanced and policy-focused media environment.”
The administration is providing help and election monitors to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which supports democratic elections in 57 participating states. The United States also aids other election monitoring groups, all of which provide long-term and short-term observers for free and fair elections.
The administration also announced that experts from U.S. government departments are traveling as energy advisers to Ukraine and the region “over the coming weeks,” in large measure to bolster Ukraine’s footing should it be cut off from Russia’s key supplies of natural gas.
The United States and European allies are weighing additional economic sanctions against Russia that would be designed to hobble its economic perch as a major natural gas supplier to neighboring nations and to countries in Europe.
On Tuesday a U.S. team arrived in Kiev “to help Ukraine secure reverse flows of natural gas from its European neighbors,” including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, the administration announced.
More energy assistance is promised in May to help Ukraine maximize energy efficiency and make longer-term investments to boost conventional gas production from existing fields, and to implement shale gas development contracts signed last year.
The United States has already dispatched technical advisers from the departments of state and justice to Ukraine to encourage anti-corruption measures, and the government announced Tuesday it will expand that help. Attorney General Eric Holder will co-host a conference in London April 29-30 aimed at helping Ukraine’s government recover assets “stolen” from its people under the previous regime, now booted from power.
The United States will help Ukraine establish an anti-corruption unit for government procurement, and will provide advice to create a legal and regulatory framework to combat corruption, according to the White House.
In Kiev, Biden said corruption is the “root cause” of Ukraine’s problems, stifling economic development, investment and advancement. “Corruption corrupts everything about a society,” he said during remarks to about four dozen civil society leaders.