Searing political tension in Ukraine got even hotter Monday when heavily armed riot police stormed the nation’s main opposition party headquarters, even as President Viktor F. Yanukovich said he is willing to hold talks with protesters who have brought Kiev to its knees with massive demonstrations in the past two weeks.
In Washington, the Obama administration ramped up its calls for calm in the Eastern European nation, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden speaking by telephone with Mr. Yanukovich to express what Mr. Biden’s office described as “deep concern about the situation” and the “growing potential for violence.”
A top congressional Democrat, meanwhile, called for the Obama administration to stand firm with the former Soviet Republic’s pro-Western demonstrators, who have been enraged since late last month when Mr. Yanukovich suddenly abandoned plans to sign a major trade and political association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.
Millions of Ukrainians saw the development as an expression of their president’s desire to move their nation more tightly into the orbit of Russia.
While recent days saw a clutch of sledge-hammer-wielding protesters in Kiev toppling a statue of Vladimir Lenin, the communist revolutionary and first leader of the former Soviet Union, the Obama administration has tried to resist characterizing the situation as a Cold War-era political standoff between East and West.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated that position Monday, telling reporters in Washington that “this is not about the United States versus Russia, this is about Ukraine, the people of Ukraine.”
Still, other administration officials have taken a firmer stand, expressing solidarity with the protesters. Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, suggested during a visit to Kiev last week that the stakes behind the political unrest were incredibly high.
“The whole world is watching,” Ms. Nuland told representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gathered in the Ukrainian capital Thursday. “This is Ukraine’s moment to meet the aspirations of its people or to disappoint them and risk descending into chaos and violence.
“There should be no doubt about where the United States stands on this,” she added. “We stand with the people of Ukraine who see their future in Europe and want to bring their country back to economic health and unity.”
Ms. Nuland was in Moscow on Monday, where she further “expressed U.S. deep concern” to her Russian counterparts and “urged Russia to use its influence to press for peace, human dignity and a political solution” in Kiev, the State Department said.
Biden reaffirms U.S. support
“The vice president underscored the need to immediately de-escalate the situation and begin a dialogue with opposition leaders on developing a consensus way forward for Ukraine,” Mr. Biden’s office said in a statement.