Ukraine president to make case for aid in US

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Thursday.Boston Globe – by Michael Birnbaum

KIEV, Ukraine — President Petro Poroshenko will arrive in Washington on Thursday with a simple request: more economic and military aid for a nation that is reeling from an insurgency in the east.

But amid concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to anticorruption efforts and Western caution about escalating a military conflict with Russia, it remained far from clear that Ukraine’s president would leave Washington with a substantial new pledge of support. The candy-magnate-turned-politician plans to talk with President Obama at the White House and will address a joint meeting of Congress.  

The absence of major military aid shipments from Western partners has fueled a sense of abandonment in Ukraine, some officials here say. Now there is an increasingly weary resignation that the country will be left to its own devices to confront pro-Russian rebels who have seized key swaths of territory in the east. In an effort to nurture a fragile cease-fire, Ukraine’s Parliament on Tuesday approved plans to give the rebels defacto control of parts of the east.

The end of the five-month effort to win back full control of the east has been a bitter turn of events for many pro-European activists in Kiev. But Ukraine’s military suffered steep losses in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 5 cease-fire, after an infusion of Russian military aid helped turn the tide of battle.

‘‘There is a sense, and I have to be honest about it, in the Ukrainian public and Ukrainian society that both the US and the EU are not doing enough to support the Ukrainian case,’’ Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said in an interview in Kiev shortly before he left with Poroshenko for a three-day North American tour. ‘‘The people feel themselves on the front of a real fight for European values, for freedom.’’

He said he is hopeful Ukraine will be offered more aid during the trip to Washington. Officials say Ukraine has been asking for advanced military technology such as additional communications devices that would allow military units to coordinate more effectively with one another on the battlefield. Officials also want to see stepped-up financial commitments to stabilize an economy that the nation’s Central Bank says may contract up to 10 percent this year.

The United States has offered nonlethal security aid to Ukraine that totals $60 million and includes food rations, body armor, and communications equipment. It also has staged two military exercises in Ukraine this month. The International Monetary Fund has pledged $17 billion in loans to bail out the struggling country, although the organization has warned that an additional $19 billion in assistance may be necessary.

Ukrainian officials say they appreciate Western efforts to help them. But some note privately and with a touch of bitterness that President George W. Bush offered $1 billion in nonmilitary aid to Georgia, a far smaller country than Ukraine, after its brief 2008 war with Russia.

Western powers also have hit Russia with tough sanctions against the financial, defense, and energy sectors. But such measures typically inflict slow-moving pain; the threat from Russia against Ukraine, many in Kiev say, is here and now.

‘‘It’s better to show that you’re strong than to come out with statements,’’ said Oleksandr Danylyuk, a leader of this winter’s protests who is now an adviser to the Defense Ministry.

In recent weeks, a bipartisan stream of US lawmakers has visited Kiev and called for lethal assistance to Ukraine that could help its military push back more effectively against the pro-Russian rebels. Kiev and its Western allies have said the Russian military stepped up a direct intervention in combat in mid-August, routing the Ukrainians, a charge the Kremlin denies. NATO officials said this week that even after the cease-fire took effect, about 1,000 Russian troops remain on Ukrainian soil.

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called for ammunition and surface-to-air missiles to be shipped to Ukraine, breaking with Obama, who has steadfastly held back from increasing the assistance. Other Democratic and Republican lawmakers also have called for more aid to Ukraine.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine continued Wednesday despite pledges from both sides to stop shooting. Authorities said ‘‘fierce battles’’ were continuing near the Donetsk airport, which is controlled by the Ukrainian government. Two civilians were killed and three wounded, authorities said.

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