By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Ukraine’s new president thanked the United States for showing solidarity with the people of Ukraine, but warned that greater tests lie ahead, telling Congress that his nation’s fight against Russian aggression “is America’s war, too.”
Petro Poroshenko, addressing a joint meeting of Congress at the start of a daylong visit to Washington on Thursday, called incursions into Ukrainian territory by Russia “one of the worst setbacks for the cause of democracy in the world in years.” He asked for additional political and logistical help, and for the United States to give his country a special non-allied partner status in NATO.
“Democracies must support each other,” Poroshenko said. “They must show solidarity in the face of aggression and adversity. Otherwise they will be eliminated one by one.”
Elected president of Ukraine in May following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and as fighting escalated against Russian-backed separatists in the east, Poroshenko acknowledged fears of “a new Cold War” but said that it must not be accepted “as an inevitability.”
Even as he warned that the “imperialistic mindset” of the former Soviet Union persisted today in Vladimir Putin, Poroshenko said he stood ready to work with Russia to sustain the recent cease-fire agreement. But he said he would never agree to “Ukraine’s dismemberment,” calling the annexation of Crimea one of the “most cynical acts of treachery in the modern era.”
“We will never obey or bend to the aggressor,” he said. “We are ready to fight. But we are a people of peace.”
Poroshenko is set to meet with President Obama later Thursday at the White House. His visit comes as the United States has been consumed by the new threat posed by Islamic State militants.
Poroshenko acknowledged that Americans are weary of conflict after a decade of war, but said this was a moment in history “whose importance cannot be measured solely in percentages of GDP growth.”
“Values come first — this is the truth the West would remind Ukraine of over the last years. Now it is Ukraine’s turn to remind the West of this truth,” he said.
Poroshenko was greeted warmly by members of Congress, and his speech was interrupted repeatedly by standing ovations. He broke from his prepared text at the start of speech, saying it was “impossible to imagine what I am feeling right now.” The famously sentimental House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) also teared up as Poroshenko hailed the ties between the two nations.
He concluded his speech by linking the well-recognized New Hampshire state motto, “Live free or die,” to the spirit of his nation’s own clashes: ” ‘Live free’ must be the message Ukraine and America send to the world, while standing together in this time of enormous challenge.”
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