Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Vice President Joe Biden telephoned Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich yesterday to express his "deep concern" about the potential for violence in Ukraine, where demonstrators have been protesting since November 21 against the president's decision not to sign a trade deal with the European Union.
According to a read-out from the White House, Biden "underscored the need to immediately de-escalate the situation and begin a dialogue with opposition leaders on developing a consensus way forward for Ukraine."
He also "reaffirmed the strong support of the United States for Ukraine's European aspirations... and welcomed the upcoming visits of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and State Department Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland to Kyiv."
Demonstrations in Kiev began after President Yanukovich announced on November 21 that Ukraine would not sign a trade deal with the EU, a move that was seen as bowing to pressure from Russia and thwarting Ukraine's attempts to advance its economy.
Protesters were further enraged following a meeting last Friday between Yanukovich and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was seen by the opposition as further evidence of Ukrainian involvement in a Russian-led regional trade pact. On Sunday, protesters toppled a statue of Soviet leader hero Vladimir Lenin in Kiev.
Monday, opposition offices were raided by "masked men" whom opposition members believed were "special ops" although the police denied responsibility. The raid occurred after the president posted an announcement on his website that he would support dialogue with the opposition.
[The White House] [UPI]