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Ukraine’s President Implores Washington for Help But May Leave Empty-Handed
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko implored the United States to provide more military and non-military aid to Kiev in its protracted conflict with Russian-backed rebels on Thursday in front of a rare joint session of Congress. To roaring applause and whooping cheers, the Ukrainian candy mogul-turned politician likened Ukraine’s struggle against Moscow to a global battle ...
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko implored the United States to provide more military and non-military aid to Kiev in its protracted conflict with Russian-backed rebels on Thursday in front of a rare joint session of Congress.
To roaring applause and whooping cheers, the Ukrainian candy mogul-turned politician likened Ukraine’s struggle against Moscow to a global battle for the preservation of the post-World War II international order.
"Democracies must support each other," he said. "Otherwise they will be eliminated, one by one."
Throughout the speech, Poroshenko received multiple standing ovations from a packed House floor that included both top House and Senate leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and an array of senior administration officials like Vice President Joe Biden and State John Kerry. But it remains far from certain whether Poroshenko’s dramatic overture will result in any significant deliverables for the embattled leader.
At the moment, Kiev wants Washington to provide large arms shipments and sophisticated communication equipment that will enhance coordination between the Ukrainian military units fending off Russian-backed rebels in the east. The Ukrainian military had made significant gains against the insurgents, but a rapid influx of Russian weapons, trainers, and special forces operatives has stopped the Ukrainian advance.
Still, the Obama administration and other European allies have repeatedly opposed the shipments of weapons to Ukraine, fearing that it could escalate the crisis and provoke Moscow to intervene more aggressively than it already has. Poroshenko, clearly afraid that the Russian aid has already decisively turned the tide, implored politicians to stand up to Russia.
"Blankets and night-vision goggles are important. But one cannot win a war with blankets!" Poroshenko said, raising his voice for emphasis. "I understand that American citizens and taxpayers want peace, not war … However, there are moments in history, whose importance cannot be measured solely in percentages of GDP growth."
Poroshenko agreed to a fragile ceasefire earlier this month, which gave rebels de facto control of significant territories in the east. Even after the agreement, NATO officials say some 1,000 Russian troops remain inside Ukraine.
Thus far, Washington has offered Kiev a package of non-lethal aid including body armor, communications equipment and food amounting to more than more than $60 million. An administration official told Reuters on Thursday that more aid would be forthcoming in the form of counter-mortar radar equipment and humanitarian assistance. The U.S. also orchestrated military exercises in Ukraine in September. On the financial front, the International Monetary Fund has offered $17 billion in loans to the cash-strapped government, but Poroshenko made clear he needs more help.
"In particular, I ask the Congress to create a special fund to support investments of American companies in Ukraine and to help us with reforming our economy and our justice system," he said.
In a nod to Ukraine’s decades-long struggle with corruption, Poroshenko promised to clean up Kiev’s institutions. "I assure you that all aid received from the West will be utilized by non-corrupt institutions and that the new generation of officials will make sure the funds are distributed effectively," he said.
In an interview after the speech, Sen. Bob Corker, the most senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Poroshenko’s remarks should be a wake up call. "The administration sends them used night-vision goggles and some MRE’s [Meals Ready to Eat]," he said. "I’m sorry, it’s been an embarrassment to me the way this administration has responded to Ukraine."
NATO’s western European allies, in particular Germany, feel that injecting weaponry into the conflict will only encourage Russia to more aggressively and nimbly assert itself into the battle in a way the West will be unable or unwilling to combat. Still, Kiev seems to have the strong support of Congress.
Later on Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to pass the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which designates Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia as major non-NATO allies and provides $10 million to counter Russian propaganda in the former Soviet space in the next three years. It also pressures the administration to impose sanctions on Russian defense firms, including Rosoboronexport and energy giant Gazprom.
Speaking after the speech, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a staunch Obama ally, said it’s now time to supply Ukraine with anti-tank weaponry, something the Obama administration has repeatedly ruled out. "In my view, there’s room for additional assistance … anti-tank weaponry," he said. "I know the administration is still reviewing that whole question, and obviously the visit by the Ukrainian president may clarify things."