KIEV, Ukraine — Russia accused Ukraine on Monday of breaking a deal to end violence in eastern Ukraine as Vice President Biden was to meet leaders in Kiev to show support for their confrontation with militants.
"Steps are being taken, above all by those who seized power in Kiev, not only that do not fulfill, but that crudely violate the Geneva agreement," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, referring to a U.S. and European Union-brokered truce.
Lavrov said a gunfight Sunday near Slaviansk, one of the Ukrainian cities where pro-Russia separatists have taken over buildings, showed that Ukraine's leaders are refusing to control "extremists" as called for the Geneva agreement.
"The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine," he said. Lavrov said nothing about the armed occupiers who sparked the standoff and refuse to surrender.
The U.S. State Department said photos available from social media and other sites show Russia has sent forces into eastern Ukraine. It said the alleged "concerned citizens" who want more autonomy in eastern Ukraine are dressed the same and are carrying the same kind of RPG-30 rocket launchers that are issued to Russian army troops.
Biden arrived here after the attack Sunday on pro-Moscow militants that Ukraine said was carried out by Russian special forces who have slipped into Ukraine to provoke a war on orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Ukrainian State Security Service said the shooters were not Ukraine forces as Lavrov alleges but "armed offenders and saboteurs" who are terrorizing people in eastern Ukraine who do not want to join Russia.
Biden plans to meet with Ukraine's president and prime minister as well as lawmakers to back their confrontation against militants seeking to separate from Ukraine, and to warn Russia that the U.S. may impose more sanctions on it if it continues to provoke unrest.
Biden plans to announce new technical support to the Ukrainian government to implement energy and economic reforms, as well. But no lethal aid is being contemplated, according to the White House.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told NBC that Putin is trying to bring back the Soviet Union, the communist predecessor to modern Russia that controlled Eastern Europe and Ukraine before it was dissolved in 1991.
"Every day he (Putin) goes further and further," Yatsenyuk said. "And God knows where is the final destination."
A Putin-ordered invasion of the Ukraine province of Crimea has left that area in the hands of Russia's military. Putin declared Crimea part of Russia after a referendum was held in favor of joining Russia, though Crimea and the West say the vote was a sham and the secession illegal.
Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country have been convulsed by unrest since Ukraine ousted its pro-Russia president over the shooting of protesters who opposed his attempts to tie Ukraine closer to Moscow rather than Europe.
The area has a large population of ethnic Russians, some of whom want more autonomy from the central government in Kiev. Russian state media and representatives from Moscow have been telling Ukrainians that they will get bigger pensions and better housing if they act to join Russia.
"The Donetsk region has been feeding the rest of Ukraine for many years, but we, its citizens, live poorly," said Nadezhda Leonidova, 61, who has been supporting separatists in the region.
"This must change," Leonidova said. "The new government is all the old faces. These people have never done any good for the east, and they never will. Russia is our chance for a decent life."
The Ukrainian government has been struggling to regain control of the east where just across the border tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are stationed. The government sent Ukrainian forces to the regions where the takeovers have happened but the soldiers have yet to move on the militants.
Diplomats in Geneva, including Lavrov and Ukraine's foreign minister, agreed last week on a statement that all armed extremist groups must end occupying buildings and surrender their weapons. Lavrov alleged that Ukraine has violated the agreement by refusing to disarm nationalist groups that are assailing pro-Russia Ukrainians.
But Ukraine has moved to disarm and arrest members of the so-called Right Sector, who are largely found in Kiev. The militants who have taken over buildings have refused to leave or disarm, a fact Lavrov has not mentioned.
Uniformed masked men, armed with weapons, set up checkpoints in eastern Ukraine last week where police and administrative buildings were taken over by separatists. Putin has denied the masked men are Russian soldiers, but he admitted that those mystery forces that moved into Crimea before it was annexed at the end of March were Russia soldiers.
A man who claims he is now mayor of Slovyansk asked Putin to send in troops to protect Russian speakers from Ukrainian nationalists.
"They want to make us slaves. They don't talk to us, but simply kill us," Vyacheslav Ponomaryov told reporters in a broadcast on Rossiya state television.
Ukraine has held off from using force against those occupying government buildings, promising to grant amnesty to those who give up peacefully. Separatists want to hold a referendum on autonomy in the east on the same day as Ukraine presidential elections May 25, but Ukraine has said no to that.
The Ukrainian government "can choose either to try to fight against the separatists in eastern Ukraine and they won't make themselves very popular … or they don't fight and accept the eastern part of Ukraine will become independent or autonomous," said Liana Fix, associate fellow at the Center for Central and Eastern Europe of the Robert Bosch Stiftung at the German Council of Foreign Relations in Berlin.
"In all cases they lose control over eastern Ukraine," Fix said.
Serenelli reported from Berlin. Contributing: the Associated Press