Russia must be punished if it seeks to derail Ukraine’s presidential election this weekend, United States vice-president Joe Biden has said in Romania.
Speaking during a tour of eastern Europe, he urged European allies to use their influence and “promote a stable and positive environment” so Ukrainians can vote unhindered on Sunday.
“If Russia undermines these elections we must remain resolute and impose greater costs to Russia and [be] equally resolute to invest in the Nato alliance,” he said after talks with Romanian president Traian Basescu.
The US and the EU have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and have threatened to target sectors of the Russian economy if Russia grabs more land from Ukraine. Mr Biden urged Romania to develop its natural gas resources, which could be exported to regional partners, including neighbouring Moldova, which depends on Russian gas.
Romania imports about one-fifth of its natural gas from Russia but has its own supplies in north-west Transylvania.
“We need to ensure Russia can no longer use its energy resources as a weapon against anyone in the region,” Mr Biden said. “The development of a secure, diverse and interconnected energy market is the next great step for our European colleagues.”
He sought to reassure Romania that it would be protected by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation if it were attacked. “Nato nations never stand alone, we protect one another,” he said.
Mr Biden later met students and urged them to continue to fight corruption, a theme he mentioned in meetings with the president and prime minister.
Among the candidates in the Ukraine election is former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, freed from jail where she was sent for alleged abuse of office over gas deals with Russia.
“We have a shared value system,” he said. “The foundation of the western alliance is not a free market, it is an open, free and transparent society where corruption is viewed as the enemy and people are given a fair opportunity and all are treated with dignity.”
Mr Biden said a US anti-missile shield at Romania’s Deveselu site is on track to become operational in 2015 and praised Bucharest’s plans to raise defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP by 2016, from about 1.5 per cent.
Kiev’s interim authorities hope Sunday’s vote will help restore calm after five months of upheaval that has included violent street protests, the Crimea annexation and pro-Russian separatist rebellions in the east of the former Soviet republic.
Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the West must support efforts to ensure Ukrainians can vote freely, without intimidation.
Russia’s defence ministry, said yesterday that Russian troops that took part in military exercises in three provinces bordering Ukraine were preparing to return to their home bases, a claim the US and Nato both said they could not verify.