Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Ukraine president asks US Congress for lethal military aid

Petro Poroshenko thanks US for nonlethal assistance, but says 'one cannot win a war with a blanket'

The United States said on Thursday that it would provide $46 million in new security assistance to Ukraine's military, but stopped short of fulfilling an urgent request from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for lethal aid to quell an insurgency by Russian-backed separatists. 

“I strongly encourage the United States to give Ukraine a special security and defense status which reflects the highest level of interaction with non-NATO allies,” Poroshenko said in an emotional speech before Congress.

Senior Obama administration officials said the new financial aid would include $7 million in humanitarian assistance that would be transferred to international relief organizations to help civilians in eastern Ukraine, where the rebellion is based.

Assistance would also include providing Ukrainian forces with patrol boats, body armor, heavy engineering equipment, and counter-mortar radar to help detect artillery fire.

Poroshenko thanked the U.S. for the nonlethal equipment, but he said more was needed to stop provocations near the Russian border. "Blankets and night vision goggles are important, but one cannot win a war with a blanket," he said during a 40-minute address.

Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists have been locked in a months-long battle for control of eastern Ukrainian cities that sit on Russia's border — aggression that followed Russia's annexation of the strategically important peninsula of Crimea.

“The aggression against Ukraine has become one of the worst setbacks for the cause of democracy in the world in years,” Poroshenko said. 

Poroshenko was to hold talks with President Barack Obama at the White House later on Thursday.

Lawmakers have pressed Obama to ramp up military aid to Ukraine. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was expected to vote on Thursday on bipartisan legislation that would increase military and nonmilitary assistance, as well as broad sanctions on Russia's defense, energy and financial sectors.

If passed, the legislation would authorize $350 million in military assistance, including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, ammunition, counter-artillery radars and surveillance drones.

"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 committee's chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, said.

Ukraine and Russia inked a cease-fire agreement on Sept. 5, though the deal has been violated repeatedly. On Wednesday, shelling in rebel-held parts of east Ukraine killed at least 12 civilians, as a top leader of pro-Russian rebels rejected Ukrainian legislation meant to end the unrest by granting self-rule to large swaths of the east.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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