WASHINGTON -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has said Ukraine cannot lose another chance to change the country for the better.
Speaking at an event at the National Democratic Institute in Washington on December 9, Biden said, "These people have braved snipers' bullets, freezing cold, to win for themselves a chance to fundamentally alter their country for the better."
His message was that if the pro-Western government formed this month fails to reform the economy and fight corruption, the efforts of Ukrainians who risked their lives in street protests that pushed Viktor Yanukovych from power in February could be in vain.
Biden said battling corruption and "kleptocracy" would help Ukraine protect its sovereignty, which is threatened by Russian-backed separatists who have been fighting government forces in the east in a conflict that has killed more than 4,300 people since April.
He said that Ukrainians have a chance again, and "they can't blow it."
"Freedom is over 25 years old and they blew it; the Orange Revolution and they blew it."
He warned, "They don't have many more chances in the near term."
The Ukraine crisis began in November 2013, when the government abandoned plans for a landmark agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow, sparking huge protests that toppled Yanukovych.
The move sparked huge protests that toppled Yanukovych in February.
The United States, the European Union, and other Western nations have placed economic sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March and its support for the pro-Russian rebels who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
Moscow denies it has sent troops or weapons into Ukraine despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence of a direct military role.
Biden said that Ukraine has been a "kleptocracy."
"Some think that's offensive to say but it's a reality. And they've made great progress. But there's still major, major impediments," he added.
The vice president also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been using "kleptocracy and oligarchy" as "tools of international coercion."
In such a situation, he said, "Fighting corruption is not just about good governance, it's about self-defense, it is about integrity, it is about sovereignty."
Biden emphasized his connection with Ukrainian government officials, saying he was "literally on the phone" with them for at least an hour and a half to two hours a week.
Biden's remarks come as Ukrainian forces and the rebels largely suspended hostilities in the country's east on December 9.
President Petro Poroshenko had called for a "Day of Silence," saying it was included in a cease-fire deal signed in Minsk on September 5.
Despite a noticeable decrease in the level of violence, the Ukrainian military said there were 13 attacks on army positions and residential areas in government-controlled settlements.
Rebel authorities said they were engaged with small arms fire.
Viktor Muzhenko, chief of Ukraine's General Staff, said the truce was open-ended and that no termination date had been set.
It remained unclear whether a new round of peace talks, involving Russia, Ukraine, and the rebels under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), would take place this week.
With reporting by AP and Reuters