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World

Ukrainian President Lobbies Washington For Money, Arms Support

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The president of Ukraine is making an impassioned plea for help as he tries to contain a Russian-backed insurgency in the east of the country. Petro Poroshenko made the rounds in Washington today at the White House State Department and on Capitol Hill, where he addressed a joint meeting of Congress. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports he won some more assistance, but not the weapons he wants.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Democracies must support each other, Poroshenko told members of Congress, urging them to stand with Ukraine as it tries to push back what he says is Russia's attempt to divide the world.

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO: These Ukrainian Army - imagine these young boys underequipped and often underappreciated by the world are the only thing that now stands between reality of the peaceful coexistence and the nightmare of the full relapse into the previous century - into the new Cold War.

KELEMEN: Poroshenko won loud and sustained applause during his speech, in which he described Russia's annexation of Crimea as the most cynical act of treachery in modern history. He says Ukraine wasn't prepared and needs much more help now, including weapons to end Russia's backed separatist rebellion in the east of the country.

POROSHENKO: Blankets, night-vision goggles are also important. But one cannot win the war with blankets.

(APPLAUSE)

KELEMEN: He's asking the U.S. to give Ukraine a special security and defense status. And he's urging Congress to create a special fund to help promote U.S. investment in the country. The former businessman and so-called chocolate king tried to reassure lawmakers that aid won't simply be lost to corruption.

POROSHENKO: And I assure you that all aid received from the West will be utilized by non-corrupt institution. And that the new generation of official will make sure that the funds are distributed effectively.

KELEMEN: At the White House, President Obama praised Poroshenko, saying the American people are behind him.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And we are providing additional assistance, both economic and security assistance, to Ukraine to make sure that not only are they able to weather this storm economically, but they're also going to be able to continue to build up an effective security force to defend themselves from aggression.

KELEMEN: The White House announced another $53 million, much of it for the Ukrainian military and border guards. That does not include weapons. But spokesman Josh Earnest says the aid should help.

JOSH EARNEST: It includes things like body armor, helmets, vehicles and night and thermal-vision goggles and other devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios. It also includes counter-mortar radar equipment that could provide for the protection of Ukrainian forces and provide warning of incoming artillery fire.

KELEMEN: He says no amount of U.S. aid can really level the playing field because, as Earnest explains it, the separatists have the backing of sophisticated Russian military equipment. The U.S. goal, he says, is to try to make sure Ukraine's military isn't overrun and find a way to resolve this conflict at the negotiating table. President Poroshenko says he's going to great lengths to do that.

POROSHENKO: And I'm ready to offer the separatists more rights than any part of Ukraine had ever had in the history of nation. And I'm ready to discuss anything except one thing - Ukrainian independence, Ukrainian territorial integrity, Ukrainian sovereignty, Ukrainian dismembered.

KELEMEN: If this war is really about the rights for Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and not Russia's geopolitical ambitions, he says, then peace can be found. But Poroshenko says his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin have been difficult. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.