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Poroshenko asks US for military aid

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has asked the US to give his soldiers lethal military equipment in its battle against Russian-backed separatists, saying that one cannot win the war or keep the peace with blankets and night vision goggles.

Senior administration officials said president Barack Obama will announce 46 million dollars (£28 million) in new security assistance for the Ukrainian military when he meets later with Mr Poroshenko, but will stop short of the request for lethal aid.

The package will include equipment to detect incoming artillery fire, vehicles and patrol boats, body armour and heavy engineering equipment, according to the officials.

The US has so far provided about 60 million (£36 million) in non-lethal aid to Ukraine's military.

Mr Poroshenko, addressing a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives, called Russia's annexation of Crimea one of the most "cynical acts of treachery in modern history". He received loud applause and standing ovations from politicians.

Mr Poroshenko said he wants the United States to give Ukraine "a special security and defensive status" with interactions of the highest-level possible with non-Nato nations.

He said young Ukraine soldiers, "under-equipped and often under-appreciated by the world, are the only thing that stands between the reality of peaceful coexistence and the nightmare of the full relapse into the previous century".

"They need more political support throughout the world. They need more military equipment, both lethal and non-lethal, urgently," Mr Poroshenko said.

White House officials made clear that Mr Poroshenko's visit - his first to the US since being elected this summer - was aimed in part at sending a message to Russia about the West's backing for the embattled former Soviet republic.

"The picture of President Poroshenko sitting in the Oval Office will be worth at least a thousand words - both in English and Russian," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Ukraine and Kremlin-backed separatists have been locked in a months-long fight for control of eastern Ukrainian cities that sit on Russia's border, aggression that followed Russia's annexation of the strategically important Crimean Peninsula. The US and Western allies have condemned Russia's provocations, levying a series of economic sanctions and restricting President Vladimir Putin's involvement in some international organisations.

But the penalties have done little to shift Mr Putin's calculus. In recent weeks, the West has accused Russia of moving troops and equipment across its border with Ukraine, though the Kremlin denies such involvement.

Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists inked a ceasefire agreement on September 5, though the deal has been violated repeatedly. On Wednesday, shelling in rebel-held parts of the east 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 swathes of the east.

Mr Poroshenko, a billionaire businessman, won Ukraine's presidential election in May after his country's Russian-backed leader fled amid popular protests.

Western leaders have praised Mr Poroshenko's commitment to reform, and Mr Obama will press him for more aggressive political and economic actions that can stabilise the fragile nation.

At the heart of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is the former Soviet republic's desire to strengthen ties with Europe. Mr Poroshenko has only deepened those efforts, making a high-profile appearance at the Nato summit this month and overseeing the backing of a deal this week to strengthen economic and political ties with Europe.

The deal lowers trade tariffs between Europe and Ukraine, requires Ukrainian goods to meet European regulatory standards and forces the Kiev government to undertake major political and economic reforms.

Following a vote by Ukrainian politicians, Mr Poroshenko called the deal "a first but very decisive step" towards bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union.

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