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'A Very, Very Telling Year' Ahead, Biden Tells Ukrainians

Vice President Joe Biden stopped in Kiev today on his final trip overseas in office, urging Ukraine to fight the Kremlin’s use of “corruption as a tool of coercion” while stressing sanctions should remain as long as Russia continues to occupy Crimea.

“This next year is going to be a very, very telling year — a very telling year,” he said.

Biden was greeted upon landing in the capital — his sixth trip there as VP — by women in traditional Ukrainian folk attire who presented him with bread, “which he took a bite of and seemed to enjoy,” according to the White House pool. The vice president has long handled relations with Ukraine, usually hopping on the phone with President Petro Poroshenko instead of President Obama as crises have unfolded in the region.

Asked by a reporter at a joint press conference with Poroshenko if the incoming White House would have close coordination with Ukraine like the years of relations led by Biden, the veep responded, “Hope springs eternal.”

“I hope the next administration will also want to be a supporter and a partner in your continued progress,” Biden said in his statement, noting that Ukrainians have to do heavy lifting as well by continuing to root out corruption and “overhaul your government, your economy, your entire political system.”

“Russia’s continued attempts to undermine your success, your security, your sovereignty, and your territorial integrity are manifold,” he said. “False propaganda attacks. Attempts to destabilize your economy. Ukraine, like every country in Europe, has a right to determine its own path. Yet Russia seeks to deny that choice. And the international community must continue to stand as one against Russian aggression and coercion.”

“There are over 1.7 million internally displaced people. Oppression of Crimean Tatars continues. More than 9,600 Ukrainians have been killed in the fighting in the east and more than 22,000 wounded in the conflict. And fully one-fifth of those victims have been civilians.”

Biden highlighted the $600 million in security assistance the United States has given to Ukraine. “We’ve trained your national guard, conventional military forces, as well as special forces; helped you increase your readiness and make your force interoperable with NATO; provided armor, radars, night-vision devices, medical equipment — all of which has saved lives and bolstered your defenses,” he added.

“Together with our EU and G7 partners, we’ve made it clear that sanctions should remain in place until Russia fully — I emphasize fully — implements its commitments under the Minsk Agreement, and that the Crimea-related sanctions against Russia must remain in place until Russia returns full control to the people of Ukraine,” the VP said.

President-elect Trump suggested in an interview with The Times of London that sanctions could be lifted on Russia in exchange for more nuclear arms control.

“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump told the paper. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.”

Biden said the Minsk agreement “cannot be implemented until Russian violence stops.”

“Only after Russia and its proxies in the east fulfill their obligation to end the fighting and let the Donbas again enjoy peace and security can Ukraine be expected to fulfill its political commitments,” he said. “It’s no secret that Russia does not want you to succeed… It’s not just about Ukraine. It’s about the future we have long sought of a Europe whole, free, and at peace — whole, free, and at peace — something that is in the vital national interest of both the United States and all Europeans.”

“…Russia over the last decade or so has used another foreign policy weapon. It uses corruption as a tool of coercion to keep Ukraine vulnerable and dependent. So pursue those reforms to root out corruption.”

“As my grandfather would say, with the grace of God, and the good will of the neighbors, which we can’t count on very much in this neighborhood, we can get this done,” Biden added. “But it all depends on the willingness of your people to continue to insist on what they deserve because they deserve it.”