KIEV, Ukraine -- Vice President Joe Biden started a two-day visit to Kiev on Monday in a pointed show of U.S. backing as Russia accused Ukraine's government of "grossly breaching" a deal designed to de-escalate separatist tensions.
Biden was to reinforce a message to Russia -- which Washington sees as supporting Ukraine's insurgency -- that time is running out for it to persuade pro-Kremlin rebels holding a string of eastern towns to comply with the pact struck in Geneva on Thursday, a senior U.S. official told reporters traveling with the vice president.
"This is going to be a situation where we take stock and determine in the relatively near term what our next step should be," the official said.
Meanwhile, Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president who is now in exile in Russia, demanded that Ukraine withdraw all its armed forces from the separatist east to avoid a "bloodbath," the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.
The Ukrainian government last week launched a military operation to try to dislodge the separatists, but, failing badly to do so, it put it on hold until at least Tuesday, after the Easter holiday.
Ukraine's foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsya, told reporters at Kiev's airport after Biden's arrival that his government was taking steps to try to de-escalate the crisis.
Notably, it has promised to protect the Russian language across the country, and proceed with a decentralization of power -- two of Russia's key concerns.
"We also hope that the Russian side will fulfill the terms of the Geneva agreement," he said.
A spokesman in Kiev for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring implementation of the Geneva agreement, said Monday there was "no confirmation" of the separatists leaving occupied buildings.
Spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said the OSCE planned this week to triple the number of monitors in the country. Currently there are 100, more than half of whom are in the east.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014