(AFP) Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko will cast Russia as a global menace Thursday when he meets US President Barack Obama in the hope of winning a “special status” guaranteeing his troubled nation’s security
The pro-Western president’s first tour of the White House since his May election comes two days after Ukraine took its first firm step out of Russia’s orbit by ratifying a landmark political and economic partnership pact with the 28-nation EU bloc.
But his ex-Soviet country’s future remains uncertain in the wake of a five-month separatist uprising that left a wedge of the Russian-speaking east enjoying almost complete autonomy under the terms of a tenuous September 5 truce.
Both Kiev and NATO also insist that at least 1,000 Russian elite troops remain secretly stationed in the vital industrial region — an ominous presence denied by the Kremlin but omnipresent in Poroshenko’s security concerns.
– High hopes, low expectations –
The 48-year-old leader said he was “hoping in the very near future for a special status of a non-NATO member ally” that would compel the United States to spring into action should Ukraine come under attack.
Yet Obama has been saddled with too many simultaneous crises to draw the United States into a military standoff with a nuclear-armed Russia over a country with which it is sympathetic but which is not part of its strategic concerns.
That approach has won him a fair share of congressional critics but is largely in line with both US public opinion and his own administration’s preference for rallying allies to adopt a joint diplomatic and economic response to an emerging threat.
Months of unrelenting US pressure saw the European Union — mindful of imperilling its fragile economic recovery — follow Washington’s lead and unleash punishing sanctions on giant Russian banks and oil firms.
Obama was also able to convince France to suspend the lucrative delivery of a helicopter carrier that Russia intended to base in Crimea as a reminder of its claim on the Black Sea.
And NATO soon followed that up by approving a small “spearhead” force that could be dispatched within 48 hours to any ex-Soviet satellite state in eastern European ally seeking help.
Yet the assistance Kiev has sought most involves NATO boots on the ground and the type of heavy military equipment that Russia allegedly supplied to the pro-Kremlin insurgents in increasing quantities as the war dragged on.
The United States has responded by approving shipments of non-lethal equipment such as night vision goggles and bullet proof vests — a welcome but limited addition to Ukraine’s drastically underfunded and outdated fighting force.