Ukrainian President Poroshenko Addresses U.S. Congress

This article originally appeared on the Voice of America website on September 18.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, whose country has seen part of its territory annexed by Russia and another part destabilized by pro-Russian separatists, has called on U.S. lawmakers to continue to support Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy.

Speaking in Washington before a joint session of Congress ahead of his meeting with President Obama later on September 18, Poroshenko thanked lawmakers for the support and solidarity the United States has already shown Ukraine in the face of foreign aggression.

“There are moments in history when freedom is more than just a political concept. At that moment, freedom becomes the ultimate choice which defines who you are, as a person — and as a nation,” Poroshenko said, referring to his country’s struggle to preserve its territorial integrity.

Pointing a finger at Russia, Poroshenko told U.S. lawmakers that Ukraine, which voluntarily surrendered its nuclear arsenal, the world’s third-largest at the time, in return for security assurances, “was stabbed in the back by one of the countries [which] gave her those assurances.”

Acknowledging long standing ovations by lawmakers during his nearly one-hour speech, Poroshenko called on the U.S. to grant Ukraine a special status to help it in its moment of need.

“I strongly encourage the United States to give Ukraine a special security and defense status which [would] reflect the highest level of interaction with a non-NATO ally,” he said.

Pointing to the threats and challenges Ukraine faces, Poroshenko said that they are not Ukraine’s alone, and that the world must make a “choice between civilization and barbarism.”

“The free world must stand its ground. And with America’s help it will,” he said.

Invoking the American Revolution slogan “live free or die,” and referring to street protests which brought down Ukraine’s previous Moscow-backed government earlier this year, Poroshenko said that it was the same slogan that inspired Ukrainians to rise up for their own “revolution of dignity.”

MILITARY AID

Poroshenko, who declared a cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine on September 5, in meetings with U.S. officials is widely expected to press them for additional military assistance beyond the $70 million promised by Washington late last month.

In his speech before Congress, he said that with his country seeking a “strong modern army,” it needs both nonlethal and lethal military aid.

The U.S. is reportedly ready to offer $53 million in fresh aid to Ukraine — $46 million to bolster Ukraine’s security and $7 million in humanitarian aid, a senior Obama administration official said Thursday.

A bill to provide Ukraine with both nonlethal and lethal support has already been drafted in Congress, according to Representative Marcy Kaptur, co-chair of the Ukraine Congressional Caucus and co-author of the document.

Speaking to VOA following Poroshenko’s speech, she said that he has “wall-to-wall” support in the U.S. legislature.

The White House has so far stopped short of supplying lethal aid to the Kyiv government, choosing instead to focus on punishing Moscow with wide-ranging economic sanctions for its annexation of Crimea and its support of a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine. Moscow is denying involvement.

European Union nations, Canada, Australia, Japan and Switzerland have also imposed sanctions against Moscow.

According to estimates, some 3,000 people have died in the fighting in eastern Ukraine and more than a quarter-million people have been driven from their homes.

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