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Biden: US Will Help Ukraine Defend Itself if Necessary

by VOA News February 07, 2015

The United States wants a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine but, if necessary, will help Kyiv defend itself against Russia, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday.

Speaking at an international security conference in Munich, Biden said Russia's President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly vowed to work for peace but instead has delivered 'tanks, troops and weapons' to the conflict. He said Russia should be judged by its deeds, rather than its words.

In spite of past cooperation between Russia and the international community, Putin has chosen a different path, the vice president said.

'America and Europe are being tested,' Biden said. 'President Putin has to understand that as he has changed, so has our focus. We have moved from resetting this important relationship to reasserting the fundamental bedrock principles on which European freedom and stability rests.'

Biden said the U.S. would continue to provide Ukraine with 'security assistance,' not to encourage war but to allow Ukraine to defend itself.

'We believe we should attempt an honorable peace,' he said. 'But we also believe the Ukrainian people have the right to defend themselves.'

Poroshenko bemoans 'spiraling tragedy'

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke a few minutes later at the conference, holding up several Russian passports that he said had been collected from Russian soldiers many kilometers inside Ukraine's border. 'This is the best evidence for the aggression and the presence of Russian troops,' he said.

Poroshenko said more than 5,600 civilians had been killed in the conflict since last April and called the conflict 'a spiraling tragedy for my nation.'

​​Earlier, French President Francois Hollande said a French-German peace initiative currently under discussion is 'one of the last chances' to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking from France, Hollande said failure to achieve a lasting peace deal will mean war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the Munich conference it is unclear if the peace plan will succeed. She also voiced opposition to the idea of Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, saying more weapons will not resolve the conflict.

'I will say this about the talks in Moscow yesterday that the French president and I held: It is unclear if these talks will be successful. But it is my opinion, and the opinion of the French president, that in any case it is worth making this attempt. At the very least, we owe it to the people in Ukraine.'

Russia criticizes Western stance

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded that a deal to end the conflict in Ukraine is still possible, but he had stinging criticism for U.S. and European stance on Ukraine, saying they had taken steps to escalate the conflict. He said: 'Our Western partners issued indulgences and pardoned the Kyiv authorities who started a full-scale military operation, calling their citizens terrorists,' referring to Ukrainians who agree with the pro-Russian separatists.

Talks between the leaders of Russia, France and Germany on the peace initiative ended early Saturday in Moscow without firm results. But a Russian spokesman said work on the plan to end the 10-month pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine is going forward.

The Ukraine crisis is high on the agenda at the three-day security conference in Munich, which ends Sunday. The conference has drawn world leaders, diplomats and defense officials.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities reported that five soldiers were killed in clashes with separatists Saturday in eastern Ukraine, near the port city of Mariupol. The French news agency AFP reported that seven civilians were also killed.

Fighting in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east near the Russian border surged after the breakdown of peace initiatives last week.

VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins contributed to this report.

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