The president of Ukraine came to Washington Thursday seeking special ally status and lethal aid to fight the Russians. He walked away with neither but declared he was happy to get what he did get, new non-lethal aid.
“I’m getting everything possible,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters outside the White House after he met with President Barack Obama. He added that he had asked Obama to “increase the cooperation” in security and defense and “received a positive answer.”
Poroshenko earlier told a joint session of Congress that failing to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin could put all of Europe at risk. He pledged to stand as a bulwark against an aggressive Russia and thanked the U.S. for its assistance.
He stressed that he wants more weaponry, warning that his “underequipped” army of “young boys” is the only defense against Russian aggression. “Blankets and night-vision goggles are important,” he said. “But one cannot win a war with blankets.”
Ukraine’s economy is hampered by fears about widespread corruption, but Poroshenko pledged to root out the “sins” of corruption and asked for more investments of American business in the country. “I assure you that all aid received from the West will be utilized by non-corrupt institutions,” he said.
Members of Congress pushed the administration to provide lethal military aid and ramped up the pressure Thursday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously to urge tougher sanctions against Russia and $350 million in military aid, including anti-tank, anti-armor weapons and ammunition.
Meeting later with Obama, the Poroshenko also asked that the U.S. grant Ukraine a special non-NATO ally designation, such as Japan and Israel have. But he told CNN afterward that Obama turned him down.
Obama said there is already a special status for the level of the cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine and it’s higher than the non-NATO status, Poroshenko said, adding that he was pleased that he “received more than we asked.”
The White House has resisted escalating the conflict with Russia by providing arms, calling instead for the crisis to be resolved diplomatically.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama backs Ukraine’s defense but believes it would be “challenging” to level the playing field between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists, whom he noted are obtaining “sophisticated military equipment” from the Russian government.
The administration believes the best way to resolve the crisis is through negotiations between the Ukraine government and the Russian-backed separatists, Earnest said.
“That is the path of resolving this situation in the most enduring way,” he said.
Obama did pledge $53 million in new aid, including $46 million in military aid and $7 million in humanitarian aid. The aid includes body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices and, for the first time, counter-mortar radar equipment that can warn of incoming artillery fire.
The U.S. is providing economic and security assistance to ensure “not only are (Ukrainians) able to weather this storm economically, but they are also going to be able to continue to build up an effective security force to defend themselves from aggression,” Obama told Poroshenko in the Oval Office.