Vice President Joe Biden challenged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to cease violence against protesters, begin a dialogue with the opposition, and restore his country's ties to the European Union Thursday evening. He also said America can play a role in Ukraine’s future.
“In Ukraine, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to demand a modern, democratic, prosperous future, which they see in Europe. And they look to us for help,” Biden said, becoming the most senior Obama adminstration to condemn the government’s weeks long crackdown on street protesters. “Nothing would have greater impact for securing our interests and the world’s interests in Europe than to see a democratic, prosperous, and independent Ukraine in the region. And in our view, it would be the best thing that could ever happen to Russia in the long term.”
Biden was the featured honoree at Thursday evening at the annual gala of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a non-governmental organization that advocates on behalf of diplomacy and development as tools of national power. He said he knew Yanukovych well and had “several hours worth” of conversations with him in recent months.
“My conversation with Yanukovych just in the past few weeks, I’ve made it clear that he has a choice. He can choose a path that leads to division and isolation or can take immediate tangible steps to diffuse his country’s crisis and start a genuine dialogue with the opposition to agree to a path that returns Ukraine to economic and political health,” Biden said. “We hope he leads his country back to its European path, but he needs help. Because it’s in the most fundamental interest of the United States that Ukraine succeed, the door is open. And what the Ukrainian people have to know is that the America stands with them on the side of universal rights, democratic principles, and economic assistance and intervention.”
Biden’s comments follow the visit to Kiev by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who also criticized Yanykovych and urged Ukraine to turn toward Europe. Nuland also handed out food to protesters in downtown Kiev.
The Vice President does in fact have a long history of dealing with Ukraine. In a 2009 visit to Kiev, he was reported to have said Ukraine has “the most beautiful women in the world.”
Biden said the world was at a transformational moment where the United States could play a role in shaping the international future.
“We have a chance to maybe just bend history just a little bit, and I really mean that. Think about it,” he said. “If we were having this meeting 15 years ago, the ability of America to influence the world was considerably less than it is today.”
Sen. John McCain introduced Biden and said that the two politicians shared a long friendship and a similar political style despite their partisan differences.
“We’ve managed to remain close friends, partially because neither of us has ever viewed out friendship as incompatible with a good fight, and partially because there’s nothing that an outspoken and excitable politician likes more than the company of another outspoken, excitable politician,” he said.
McCain also criticized the isolationist view of foreign policy espoused by some of the Republican Party’s newer leaders, including Sen. Rand Paul.
“We have seen how much better off we are, how much our country and humanity have progressed, when the United States commits all its assets to leading the world to a more stable, freer, more prosperous future. That doesn’t mean, as the isolationists claim, that we are forever lurching from one crisis to another at the expense of American lives, treasure, and interests,” he said.
The Vice President joked that the U.S. government should follow the administrative model of USGLC, which is led by two co-presidents Caterpillar’s Bill Lane and Save the Children’s Carolyn Miles.
“I kind of like that notion of co-presidents. But I couldn’t talk Barack into it,” he said. “That’s a good idea, I’ll have to bring this up with Barack at lunch.”