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US to send $53 million in non-lethal aid to Ukraine

AFP/Jim Watson

The US will send $53 million in aid, including $46 million in military assistance, to Ukraine’s military but declined a request from President Petro Poroshenko to send lethal aid to help in the battle against Russian-backed separatists.

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While Poroshenko thanked the United States for the non-lethal equipment it is providing to his country’s beleaguered military, he said much more was needed to halt the advance of Russia-backed separatists.

“Blankets and night-vision goggles are important, but one cannot win a war with a blanket,” he said. Poroshenko was speaking during a 40-minute address to a joint meeting of Congress that was repeatedly interrupted by applause from lawmakers.

Poroshenko arrived at the White House later in the day for one-on-one discussions with US President Barack Obama, who said at the meeting that Poroshenko's leadership had been "critical, at a very, very important time in Ukraine's history".

"Unfortunately, what we have also seen is Russian aggression, first in Crimea and most recently in portions of eastern Ukraine," Obama said.

"The aid falls short of what Poroshenko asked for"

The White House meeting was aimed at sending a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the West’s support for Ukraine.

“The picture of President Poroshenko sitting in the Oval Office will be worth at least a thousand words – both in English and Russian,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Ukraine has been battling Kremlin-backed separatists for control of several eastern Ukrainian cities near the Russian border in the months since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March.

Ahead of Thursday’s White House meeting, US officials said Obama would announce a security assistance package that would provide Ukrainian forces with counter-mortar radar to help detect incoming artillery fire. The US will also provide vehicles and patrol boats, body armour and heavy engineering equipment.

Despite some support for Poroshenko’s request within the Obama administration, officials said the president does not believe that sending lethal arms to the Ukrainian military is an effective way to end the conflict.

Vote expected on sanctions

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was expected to vote Thursday afternoon on bipartisan legislation that would increase military and non-military assistance to Ukraine as well as impose broad sanctions on Russia’s defence, energy and financial sectors.

“President Putin has upended the international order, and a slap on the wrist will not deter future Russian provocations,” the committee’s chairman, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said. “In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine needs our steadfast and determined support, not an ambiguous response. We are left with no choice but to apply tough sanctions against Russia, coupled with military assistance to Ukraine.”

The legislation would authorise $350 million in military assistance – including anti-tank and anti-armour weapons, ammunition, counter-artillery radars and surveillance drones – for fiscal year 2015.

The US and Western allies have condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine, levying a series of economic sanctions and restricting Putin’s involvement in some international organisations. In recent weeks, the West has accused Russia of moving troops and equipment across the border, although the Kremlin denies direct involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists signed a ceasefire agreement on September 5, although the deal has since been violated repeatedly. Shelling in rebel-held parts of the east killed at least 12 civilians on Wednesday as a pro-Russian rebel leader rejected Ukrainian legislation aimed at ending the unrest by granting self-rule to large parts of the east.

At the heart of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is the former Soviet republic’s desire to strengthen ties with Europe and move away from the Russian sphere of influence. Poroshenko has only bolstered those efforts, making a high-profile appearance at the NATO summit this month and overseeing the backing of an association agreement this week to strengthen economic and political ties with Europe.

The deal lowers trade tariffs between Europe and Ukraine, requires Ukrainian goods to meet European regulatory standards, and forces the Kiev government to undertake major political and economic reforms.

Following a vote by Ukrainian lawmakers, Poroshenko called the deal “a first but very decisive step” toward the European Union for Ukraine.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

 

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