WASHINGTON — Vice President Biden begins a two-day visit to Ukraine on Monday amid growing anxiety in Washington that Russia President Vladimir Putin will press to grab more of eastern Ukraine.
The vice president arrives in the capital, Kiev on Monday after a fragile truce reached last week in Geneva was tested earlier in the day with deadly shootout at a checkpoint run by pro-Russian militants near the town of Slovyansk.
Biden is set to meet with Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, parliament Speaker and acting President Oleksandr Turchynov and other key legislators, according to the White House. The vice president's meetings comes with a little more than a month to go before Ukrainians are set to go to the polls. He is also scheduled to meet with the staff and family of U.S. diplomats stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev as well with a group of civil society leaders at the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine.
The White House said Biden intends to discuss the international community's efforts to help stabilize Ukraine's struggling economy, preparations for the May 25 elections, and the situation in eastern Ukraine.
Republican lawmakers continue to criticize President Obama for taking what they say is a timid response to Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and support of pro-Russian provocateurs in eastern Ukraine.
On Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued on NBC's Meet the Press that the administration needs to impose targeted sanctions on Russian companies in the energy and financial sectors. He warned that eastern Ukraine will be lost if Putin does not feel real consequences for Russia's aggressive actions.
"I think we're going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are, and I think it's going to be a geopolitical disaster if that occur," Corker said. "The world is watching; our allies in Europe are watching … and I think we need to step on out and do the things that we threaten because I don't think Putin will respond to anything else other than us overtly doing the things we've laid out."