Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet in Kiev Tuesday with beleaguered leaders of Ukraine to demonstrate solidarity amid intensifying concerns about renewed violence in the fractured country.
One concern is that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the violence as an excuse to take over more of eastern Ukraine in a follow-up to Russia's annexing of Crimea.
A truce announced last week in Geneva frayed Sunday when at least three people were killed in a gunfight at a checkpoint operated by pro-Russian militants near the town of Slovyansk, according to reports in various media, including Reuters.
This prompted the Russian foreign ministry to issue a statement that, "The Easter truce has been violated. This provocation … testifies to the lack of will on the part of the Kiev authorities to rein in and disarm nationalists and extremists," according to Reuters.
But a spokesman for Ukraine's foreign ministry said, "The Russian side must be reminded about their obligations under the Geneva agreement to bring all necessary influence to bear on separatists to clear illegally held buildings, unblock roads, lay down arms and prevent any bloodshed."
In Washington, Republican legislators said President Obama's response to Russia has been weak. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told NBC that the administration should impose targeted sanctions on Russian companies involved in energy development and finance.
"I think we're going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are, and I think it's going to be a geopolitical disaster if that occurs," Corker said. "The world is watching … and I think we need to step on out and do the things that we threaten because I don't think Putin will respond to anything else other than us overtly doing the things we've laid out."
Sanctions imposed by the Obama administration so far have been minimal, critics of the administration say.
A White House spokesman announced that Biden will meet in Ukraine Tuesday with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, parliament Speaker and Acting President Oleksander Turchynov, and various legislators. They will discuss "the international community's efforts to help stabilize and strengthen Ukraine's economy and to assist Ukraine in moving forward on constitutional reform, decentralization, anti-corruption efforts, and free and fair presidential elections on May 25," the spokesman said.