A mediator from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has held his first meeting with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk.
The OSCE has been charged with overseeing implementation of the agreement on de-escalation in Ukraine that was agreed on April 17 in Geneva between representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and European Union.
In Slovyansk, OSCE official Mark Etherington said he held two hours of talks on April 21 with Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the leader of pro-Russian separatists in the town.
In his remarks to reporters, Etherington gave no indication of whether Ponomaryov and the pro-Russian activists were ready to disarm and vacate occupied public buildings, as called for in the Geneva agreement.
"We have just concluded a two-hour meeting with Mr. [Vyacheslav] Ponomaryov, who we understand is one of the leaders of the armed groups in this town," Etherington said. "We discussed four issues: one, whether he and the groups he leads would comply with the provisions of the Geneva statement; two, the whereabouts and circumstance of detainees including former Mayor Nelya Shtepa; three, the alleged maltreatment of the Roma minority in Slovyansk and the shooting incident in the town on the 20th of April."
Pro-Russian activists, who hold public facilities in around 10 cities and towns in the east, have said they are waiting for Ukrainian nationalist groups and others to also disarm and clear out of public facilities they occupy.
Russian and Ukrainian authorities have accused each other in recent days of failing to implement the Geneva agreement. They have also traded allegations over a shooting incident outside Slovyansk on April 20 that left three people dead.
Biden In Kyiv
In Kyiv, U.S. Vice President Biden is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and members of parliament on April 22.
A senior U.S. administration official said the vice president plans announce during his two-day visit a package of technical assistance to Ukraine, focused on energy and economic aid.
The official said the assistance includes technical help to boost production in Ukraine’s natural gas fields and extraction of unconventional energy resources.
Concerns about Ukrainian energy supplies have soared since Russia sharply increased the prices that Ukraine must pay for Russian gas. Moscow's move came as tensions surged following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in March.
The United States has been a leading international backer of Ukraine’s new authorities. Washington has warned it could impose more sanctions against Russia unless Moscow takes action to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.
Washington and the European Union imposed sanctions targeting Russian lawmakers and associates of President Vladimir Putin after the seizure of Crimea.
The United States and its NATO allies have also boosted their own forces in East European NATO members to counter a Russian military force estimated at some 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border.
Meanwhile, Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who was ousted in February and is now in exile in Russia, on April 21 released a statement calling on all Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine to return to their bases.
Yanukovych’s statement warned that the country was “one step away” from bloodshed.
Based on reports from Reuters and AP