- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Obama administration moved Thursday to provide more money and nonlethal military aid to Ukraine to battle back separatists bolstered by Russian forces and supplies, but stopped short of sending the heavy weaponry that Kiev’s security forces say they need urgently.

President Obama said he would be giving Ukraine a new $53 million support package, $7 million of which would go toward international relief organizations providing conflict relief in eastern Ukraine. Another $46 million in security assistance would support Ukraine’s military and border guards, according to a White House statement.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made clear during a joint meeting of Congress Thursday morning that the administration’s promise of additional financial support is welcome, but lethal weaponry remains a high priority for Ukraine security forces.

To date, the United States has given Ukraine solely nonlethal equipment, such as pre-packaged meals, first aid kits, radios, uniform clothing, sleeping mats, helmets, explosive ordinance disposal robots and body armor, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said. Additional items, such as night-vision goggles and thermal imagery equipment will be en route to the former Soviet bloc country in the coming weeks, Ms. Lainez said.

But that is not enough, Mr. Poroshenko told U.S. lawmakers.

“Please understand me, blankets and night vision goggles are also important, but one cannot win the war with blankets,” he said.

The new funding and support comes as Ukraine is caught in a tenuous cease fire with the Russian-backed rebels, with whom the country’s forces have been fighting since early spring. Despite the Sept. 5 cease fire, Ukrainian security forces and separatists have continued to exchange fire in the southeast portion of the country.

The ongoing violence has prompted Mr. Poroshenko to forge a new economic and political pact with the European Union and drum up Western support. On Thursday, Mr. Poroshenko was expected to continue that mission, with a trip to the White House planned to discuss his country’s plight with Mr. Obama.

The Ukrainian president’s trip to Washington is just one of many new and bold diplomatic efforts that the new Ukraine administration is undertaking to strengthen ties with allies, said Steven Pifer, former ambassador to Ukraine and director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative.

Mr. Pifer said that while the Obama administration has been hesitant to provide weapons to Ukraine because it doesn’t want to inadvertently exacerbate the already hostile situation, some officials option have implied the option is still on the table.

“There is a very strong argument to be made for providing Ukraine lethal military assistance now. What I’m told is that the administration has not ruled it out … that there’s still a discussion going on,” he said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest indicated Wednesday that Mr. Poroshenko’s historic visit to the United States would be “a pretty clear symbol” to the people of Ukraine that the United States is prepared to stand with them in their struggle to maintain sovereignty.

“The picture of President Poroshenko sitting in the Oval Office will be worth at least a thousand words, both in English and in Russian, I think,” he said.

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