Poroshenko asks Obama for weapons, obtains blankets


Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko secured $53 million in assistance from the United States yesterday (18 September) but President Barack Obama for now turned down his appeals for weapons to fight Russian-backed separatists.

Images of Poroshenko sitting side by side with Obama in the Oval Office and of the warm reception he received in a speech to Congress projected a symbolic show of solidarity with the Ukraine leader as he faces down Russia’s incursion.

The White House announced that Ukraine would receive $53 million (€41 million) in new aid, including $46 million (€35.6 million) for military equipment such as counter-mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats and other gear for Ukraine’s security forces and border guards in the east.

Poroshenko used a speech to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to appeal for lethal aid.

“Please understand me correctly. Blankets, night-vision goggles are also important. But one cannot win the war with blankets.” He added: “Even more, we cannot keep the peace with a blanket.”

Drawing cheers from those lawmakers who want to arm the former Soviet state, Poroshenko declared his forces “need more military equipment, both lethal and non-lethal, urgently need.”

At the White House, Poroshenko told reporters after his talks with Obama that he was satisfied with the level of cooperation.

“I asked the president to increase the cooperation in security and defense sector, and I received a positive answer,” he said.

NATO, wary of being drawn into a proxy conflict with Russia in the east European state, has decided against sending arms to Ukraine, which has frequently been outgunned by Russian-supported separatists in the eastern border areas.

A senior Obama administration official, asked why the United States opposes providing lethal aid, said Washington believed Ukraine had enough such equipment and that the types of weaponry that has been discussed would be of only marginal value.

“There’s no sense that there’s an effective military edge that could be given that could change the overall balance,” the official said. “Ukraine would be extremely vulnerable to a fully supported Russian attack.”

In his talks with Poroshenko, Obama emphasized a diplomatic outcome in Ukraine. The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions against Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.

Obama commended Poroshenko for helping broker a tenuous ceasefire.

“We are prepared to support Ukraine in negotiations with Russia in order to make sure that the Ukrainian people can enjoy the kind of freedom and prosperity that is their right,” Obama said.

In his speech to U.S. lawmakers, Poroshenko put the struggle in Ukraine in historical terms, calling it “the most heroic story of the last decade.”

“The outcome of today’s war will determine whether we will be forced to accept the reality of a dark, torn and bitter Europe as part of a new world order,” Poroshenko said. 

NATO leaders made clear at a summit in Wales that their military alliance would not use force to defend Ukraine, which is not a member, but planned tougher economic sanctions to try to change Russian behaviour in the former Soviet republic.

>> Read: NATO summit pledges ‘tangible’ support to Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was present at the 4-5 September NATO summit, also took centre stage at the 30 August EU summit, where he said that the EU's agenda from now on would largely revolve around Ukraine.

>> Read: Poroshenko: The EU's agenda now revolves around Ukraine

At the summit, some EU leaders reportedly spoke about the need of military assistance to Ukraine, many demanded tougher sanctions, but reportedly Slovakia, Hungary and Cyprus made it clear they oppose further sanctions which they claim would hurt their countries more than Russia.

The new EU sanctions that became effective on 12 September would limit access by Russian oil companies to funds. Similar sanctions from the United States adopted on the same day hit Russia's biggest bank and an arms maker, and bar U.S. firms from helping five big Russian oil companies explore hard to reach deposits.

Moscow has already responded to sanctions by banning the import of most Western food. It said it could take further measures and might appeal to the World Trade Organisation.

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