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Biden reassures Ukraine of US support

US Vice President Joe Biden has reassured Ukraine that the West continues to back Kyiv, despite concern that Syria and the "Islamic State" could pull away US attention. Biden also urged Kyiv to root out corruption.

In his fourth visit to Kyiv since the outbreak of the 19-month conflict in Ukraine, US Vice President Joe Biden on Monday announced an additional $190 million (175 million euros) in aid to help the economically embattled government

implement key reforms

to root out widespread corruption and improve governance.

Ukraine has vowed to battle endemic graft as part of promised reforms, in exchange for international bailout money to prop up an economy on the verge of bankruptcy after years of economic mismanagement and nearly two years of war that has claimed 8,000 lives.

But progress on rooting out corruption and implementing reforms has been slow in the post-Maidan era, with Ukrainians increasingly disgruntled by the lack of progress and a deteriorating economic situation.

"It is absolutely critical for Ukraine to root out the cancer of corruption ... Ukraine is on the cusp - what happens in the next year is likely to determine the fate of the country for generations," Biden said alongside President Petro Poroshenko following bilateral talks.

Including Monday's pledge, the US has provided Ukraine with $760 million in direct aid and two loan guarantees worth $2 billion. International financial institutions have promised another $40 billion under a bailout program in exchange for reforms.

Watch video 26:04

Petro Poroshenko on Conflict Zone

Deadlock between Ukraine's finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, and parliament over the budget and tax reforms meant to appease the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and unlock funds, as well as fixing the judicial system, have created concern the government will not be able to follow a reform agenda.

The slow progress has frustrated many in Washington.

"A lot of hard work remains, including reform of Ukraine's law and justice sectors, but the payoff will be worth it," said Biden, who will address parliament on Tuesday.

Ukraine has sought to restructure its international debt to fill a $15 billion funding gap as part of the IMF bailout, but a $3-billion Eurobond held by Russia is due to be paid on December 20. So far neither side has been able to reach new terms, meaning Ukraine could fail to repay the debt when it matures.

Through US influence at the IMF, the fund is expected to change its policy of not lending to countries in arrears, allowing Ukraine to continue receiving funds if it fails to pay of the Russian loan.

Continued support against Russian aggression

With the US and Europe's

attention being drawn to Syria and the "Islamic State,"

officials in Kyiv have been worried that Ukraine might fall off the international radar.

Part of Biden's mission is to reassure Kyiv that the US stands behind Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and the

annexation of Crimea,

something he said "will not be accepted by us or by the international community."

Biden said a February agreement drawn up in Minsk to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine "cannot succeed if Russia does not fulfill its commitments."

A ceasefire reached in September between Russian backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and pro-government forces has created a relative lull in fighting, but occasional clashes continue to erupt.

The US and European Union have tied lifting sanctions on Russia to the implementation of the Minsk deal, but following Russia's intervention to bolster the Assad regime and the downing of one its airliners by the "Islamic State" in October, it has become

increasingly clear that Moscow's help would be needed

to reach a political and military solution in the Syria conflict.

This impulse was given a further boost following the Paris terror attacks last month, after which France, a major player in the Minsk process, pushed for a broader international coalition to defeat the "Islamic State" (IS) that includes Russia. Moscow has been accused of primarily targeting Western-backed rebels instead of the "Islamic State."

The expanded military campaign against IS has been paralleled by political talks to end the conflict in Syria, where Russia holds considerable sway over a country that has

created a refugee crisis in Europe.

The changing dynamics in Syria and Western outreach to Russia has created concern in Ukraine that it could be sacrificed or forgotten as Western interests focus on Syria.

cw/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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