Biden arrives in Ukraine as tensions rise

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Ukraine for talks with the acting president and prime minister as the situation in the country’s east remains tense despite a deal aimed at easing the crisis.

White House officials say Biden will discuss the international community’s efforts to help Ukraine move forward on constitutional reform, and for what Obama administration officials say will be a free and fair presidential election on May 25.

In addition, Biden is to announce new economic and energy-related technical assistance for Ukraine during his visit to Kyiv, said an administration official.

The two-day talks will also focus on the situation in eastern Ukraine where an Easter Sunday truce barely lasted a few hours before it was shattered by a gunfight at a checkpoint in the city of Slovyansk, controlled by pro-Russia separatists. According to some accounts, three people were killed although the circumstances remain unclear.

Ukraine blames the attack on Russian special forces, which Kyiv says have infiltrated the eastern part of the country in an effort to destabilize it.

Russia blames Kyiv

Speaking about the incident in Slovyansk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Ukrainian government of not wanting to control extremists who he says are shooting unarmed civilians.

Lavrov said Monday Ukraine is “crudely” violating last week’s Geneva agreement calling on all armed illegal groups in the east to disarm and leave. The agreement also calls for a mission by European monitors.

However, pro-Russian demonstrators who have taken over government buildings in about a dozen eastern Ukrainian cities and towns have so far showed no sign of backing down.

Lavrov said the United States must recognize its responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine through its support of the new Ukrainian government.

He said attempts to isolate Russia thorough sanctions will fail, saying the majority of the world does not want to isolate Russia.

The pro-Russia activists in Ukraine, many of whom Kyiv says are not locals, are demanding the right to hold referendums on seceeding from Ukraine and joining Russia. A vote last month in Crimea led to Moscow’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.