By Mario Trujillo - 04/22/14 06:47 AM EDT
Vice President Biden said Tuesday in Ukraine the United States wants to help as the nation prepares for one of the most important elections in its history.
Meeting with nine members of the Ukrainian parliament on the trip, Biden said Kiev must fight the "cancer of corruption" that is endemic in its system, mentioning the courts as an example.
In separate remarks, Biden said, “It’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting" on its agreement to deescalate tension in the country.
Biden met with the members of parliament, which included three presidential candidates, after privately sitting down with Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov. He gave separate remarks later after his meeting with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Biden said the U.S. is prepared to help with the country's economy and, to the extent it can, assist with what "may be the most important election in Ukraine history" on May 25.
He noted many of the constitutional reforms being considered, including the decentralization of power in Kiev, have been opposed by some members in the past.
“You face very daunting problems and, some might say, humiliating threats … But the opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, getting it right, is within your grasp," Biden said. "And we want to be your partner and friend in the project. We want to assist.”
Biden on Monday met with a congressional delegation, which is also in the country to evaluate the situation there.
The vice president unveiled an energy and economic package aimed at helping Ukraine's economy, totaling $50 million. The U.S. will help secure a short-term supply of natural gas for Ukraine from European neighbors so it is not vulnerable to manipulation from Russia. Teams will also help administer financial aid approved by the International Monetary Fund.
The U.S. is giving $11.4 to help ensure the integrity and monitor Ukraine's elections next month. The administration also detailed an $8 million package of non-lethal military assistance.
The U.S. has already offered a $1 billion loan guarantee and has worked to secure the IMF loan.
Biden said the U.S. and Ukraine are similar in terms of the ethnic diversity in the two countries, however, "We're not sitting against the border of another powerful nation," referring to Russia.
The U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union came to an interim agreement last week to halt the violence there and remove pro-Russian protesters from government buildings and public spaces, in exchange for amnesty. However, the agreement seemed in doubt after a shooting that killed three people over the weekend at a Russian separatist checkpoint, which both sides have blamed on one another.
The vice president called on Russia to "stop supporting men in masks in unmarked uniforms" who have seized government buildings in Ukraine. He also called for Russia to pull its troops back from the eastern border.
“No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation -- no nation has that right … And we will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and neither will the world,” Biden said in remarks after meeting with the prime minister.
The State Department has urged Russia to hold up its end of the bargain partly by assigning Russians officials to team with staff from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the ground in Ukraine to make clear to pro-Russian protesters occupying government buildings that they do not have the backing of Moscow.
The U.S. has said it is prepared to offer further sanctions if Russia does not follow through with the interim deal. The U.S ambassador to Ukraine, Gregory Pyatt, said the U.S. would be making its determination in days.
—Updated at 7:45 a.m.