WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday defended the Obama administration's decision to cooperate with Russia on areas of "clear mutual interest," even as the West tries to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.
Biden said economic sanctions against Russia should remain until a peace accord with Ukraine can be put in place. He said the penalties and other attempts to retaliate against Russia are aimed not at forcing "regime change," but at getting President Vladimir Putin to act more rationally.
Biden's comments at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, come more than a year after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Kiev also accuses Moscow of arming and staffing separatist insurgencies in eastern Ukraine.
President Barack Obama and Western allies have tried to inflict economic pain on Putin through multiple rounds of penalties. The leaders have also tried to isolate Putin by cutting Russia out of the Group of Eight, a high-profile partnership of world powers.
Still, the U.S. and Europe have continued to work alongside Russia in the bid for a nuclear deal to block Iran's nuclear program. Russia's cooperation is also crucial to efforts to end Syria's civil war, given that Moscow is the largest benefactor of the government in Damascus.
"It makes sense to cooperate where there's a clear mutual interest as long as you're not being asked to back off," Biden said.
Biden, who has been in frequent contact with Ukrainian leaders over the past year, said he believes Putin is "practical" and will push as far as he can in Ukraine. He urged the European Union to renew sanctions enacted last year and said U.S. penalties would stay in place.
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