Standing on Ukrainian soil, Vice President Joe Biden lashed out at Russia Tuesday, saying “no nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation.”
“We will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and neither will the world,” Biden said. He called on Russia to pull back its troops from the border, and the White House announced a $50 million aid package for Ukraine on Tuesday.
Biden celebrated Ukraine’s move toward self-governance but urged the country to continue to fight for democracy. The upcoming May elections will be the “most important” in the country’s history, Biden said, but the nation must “fight the cancer of corruption.”
“No nation should stoke its instability in its neighbors countries. We call on Russia to stop supporting men hiding behind masks in unmarked uniforms sewing unrest in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said.
The remarks come as President Obama is facing criticism for his handling of the Ukraine crisis. Critics have called him weak and indecisive in standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain mocked Biden’s words on Tuesday’s Morning Joe, asking, “Or else what?”
“If they continue to do this, what will we do?” McCain said. He reiterated his call for more direct support to the Ukrainian government, including “light weapons.”
In Ukraine, Biden reiterated U.S. support. “We stand with you. And it is not just a foreign policy judgment, it is a personal – it’s an emotional commitment, as well, by millions of Americans.”
“Even with what’s going on in the east, is that there is a much greater desire to call oneself a Ukrainian than to call oneself anything else,” Biden said. “And that’s a major, major, major unifying power, no matter how different the traditions are. So I’m confident–presumptuous of me to say this–I’m confident that in your constitutional reforms, you will find a way to guarantee those traditions and at the same time strengthen Ukrainian unity.”
The White House announced the aid package as Ukraine continues to destabilize, even after a tenuous agreement for deescalation last week between the U.S., Ukraine, and Russia. The aid package is in addition to the $1 billion loan guarantee Congress authorized earlier this month, as well as $3 million dollars of food and $7 million in health and welfare assistance.
The United States announced that the aid would aim to support the May elections, the general rebuilding of the country and the establishment of an energy source that would reduce the country’s dependence on Russia.“These funds are being used to advance democratic processes – not to support a particular candidate or electoral outcome,” a White House release said. The funds ear-marked for election support will help Ukraine administer elections, while educating voters and providing at least 250 long-term observers and over 1,700 short-term observers to ensure they are fair and free.
“You have an opportunity, a chance to bring about an era of reform and democratic renewal that you all hoped for two, five, 10, 15 years ago to lay the groundwork for an even more united and more prosperous Ukraine,” Biden said.
The U.S. will also send a handful of experts and teams to advise the budding nation on setting up a judicial and governing system and an energy infrastructure, as well as an FBI team that will try and return stolen property from the conflict to the Ukrainian people.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden have made U.S. support for Ukraine an urgent priority as the Ukrainian government works to establish security and stability, pursue democratic elections and constitutional reform, revive its economy, and ensure government institutions are transparent and accountable to the Ukrainian people,” the release said.