Ukraine president calls for new offensive after party member found dead

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Kyiv Tuesday to offer an additional $50 million in aid to Ukraine

Ukraine’s acting president Oleksander Turchynov called Tuesday for government forces to relaunch an offensive against pro-Russian rebels after a local politician from his own party was found dead with signs that he had been tortured. The call came as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Kyiv, offering a new aid package of $50 million to Ukraine.

Following a failed push last week by Kyiv to retake one of the towns occupied by pro-Russian rebels in the mainly Russian-speaking east, Ukraine and Russia — accompanied by the U.S. and European Union — met in Geneva and struck a deal to end the crisis. Since then, Kyiv has largely suspended military operations in the east.

But the agreement is already in trouble, with Washington and Moscow on Tuesday putting the onus on each other to ensure that it is implemented, including a stipulation that the rebels must disarm and leave government buildings they’ve occupied for weeks.

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In an appeal that may complicate European efforts to mediate the crisis, Turchynov said two “brutally tortured” bodies had been found near Slaviansk, the location of the failed Ukrainian army offensive.

One is believed to be Volodymyr Rybak, a member of Turchynov’s Batkivshchyna party, who had recently been abducted by “terrorists,” he said in a statement.

“These crimes are being carried out with the full support and indulgence of the Russian Federation,” he said. “I call on the security agencies to re-launch and carry out effective anti-terrorist measures, with the aim of protecting Ukrainian citizens living in eastern Ukraine from terrorists.”

Police said the body of a man who had suffered a violent death had been found in a river. It resembled Rybak, a local councilor in the town of Horlivka, near the regional capital of Donetsk, but they still needed to formally identify the body, they added.

Ukraine’s poorly resourced forces had previously shown little sign of taking on the gunmen who started occupying towns and public buildings two weeks ago. Turchynov’s call may not lead to much more action, but could fuel recriminations between Moscow and Kyiv about who is failing to honor the deal.

Biden told Russia on Tuesday that “time is short” for action on defusing the crisis, but Moscow refused to be rushed, saying it could handle any economic sanctions the West might impose.

Speaking in Kyiv, Biden called on Moscow to pull back troops built up on Ukraine’s borders and persuade rebels to disarm. The U.S. has repeatedly warned Russia it faces “mounting costs” if it fails to ensure full implementation of the Geneva agreement.

U.S. Army paratroopers began arriving in Poland on Tuesday to begin a series of military exercises in four countries across Eastern Europe to bolster allies in the wake of increased tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Aid package

The U.S. offered Ukraine a new $50 million aid package to help with economic and political reform, the White House said on Tuesday. The package is small compared with a $1 billion loan guarantee already signed by Washington and an $18 billion loan guarantee from the International Monetary Fund.

“To the extent that we can help in stabilizing and strengthening Ukraine’s economy by helping you withstand the unfair economic pressure being thrust upon you, we stand ready to do that,” Biden said in front of Ukraine’s parliament. “And I say the American people stand ready — not just [President] Barack Obama and Joe Biden — but the American people.”

Biden said that Washington was committed to providing further assistance after a presidential election planned for May 25 and that $11.4 million of the package would support the integrity of that vote. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who leads the Batkivshchyna party, will run in the election.

But Biden had some tough words for Ukraine’s government, saying that governmental and judicial corruption could undermine the gains made since pro-Western leaders came to power after massive protests forced out President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

In addition to money, the U.S. said it would provide Ukraine with banking and energy experts to work on reducing Ukraine’s dependence on Russian gas by exploring the possibility of more domestic production.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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Ukraine Crisis
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