Obama, Ukraine president to meet at White House

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Obama, Ukraine president to meet at White House
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the Ukraine situation outside the Oval Office of the White House July 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to compel Ukrainian separatists to cease their efforts of hindering investigators at the site of last week's Malaysian Airlines disaster. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: U.S. President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to speak on the Ukraine situation outside the White House July 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to compel Ukrainian separatists to cease their efforts of hindering investigators at the site of last week's Malaysian Airlines disaster. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the Ukraine situation outside the Oval Office of the White House July 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to compel Ukrainian separatists to cease their efforts of hindering investigators at the site of last week's Malaysian Airlines disaster. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama leaves after speaking about the situation in Ukraine, Friday, July 18, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. The president said one American was killed on the plane over Ukraine, and the airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama listens to a question as he spoke about the situation in Ukraine, Friday, July 18, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. The president said one American was killed on the plane over Ukraine, and the airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A pro-Russian rebel speaks on the phone as a refrigerated train loaded with bodies of the passengers departs the station in Torez, eastern Ukraine, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Monday, July 21, 2014. Another 21 bodies have been found in the sprawling fields of east Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed last week, killing all 298 people aboard. International indignation over the incident has grown as investigators still only have limited access to the crash site and it remains unclear when and where the victims' bodies will be transported. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Pro-Russian rebels walk on the platform as a refrigerated train loaded with bodies of the passengers departs the station in Torez, eastern Ukraine, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Monday, July 21, 2014. Another 21 bodies have been found in the sprawling fields of east Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed last week, killing all 298 people aboard. International indignation over the incident has grown as investigators still only have limited access to the crash site and it remains unclear when and where the victims' bodies will be transported.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A general view of a meeting of Dutch parliament members in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, July 21, 2014. Rutte briefed lawmakers about his government's response to Thursday's downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that claimed 193 Dutch lives. Rutte says he has made it 'crystal clear' to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he must use his influence with rebels to ensure unhinderd access to the crash scene for international investigators. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
An armed pro-Russian rebel secures the area next to a refrigerated train loaded with the bodies of victims, in Torez, eastern Ukraine, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and had them loaded Sunday onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel-held city, Ukrainian officials and monitors said.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
An armed pro-Russian rebel, wearing a t-shirt that depicts a Russian soldier during the Crimea annexation, secures the area next to a refrigerated train loaded with the bodies of victims, in Torez, eastern Ukraine, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and had them loaded Sunday onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel-held city, Ukrainian officials and monitors said.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A man lights candles during an event to mourn the victims of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Separatist rebels in Ukraine have recovered the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a rebel leader said Sunday. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)
Toys and flowers are placed at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and had them loaded Sunday onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel-held city, Ukrainian officials and monitors said. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
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By JULIE PACE

WASHINGTON (AP) - In a symbolic show of support for Ukraine's fledgling government, President Barack Obama is meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the Oval Office on Thursday after the leader of the former Soviet republic speaks to a rare joint session of Congress.

Poroshenko arrives in Washington seeking more robust U.S military assistance to help his country in its fight against Russian-backed rebels. Obama so far has resisted Ukraine's request for lethal assistance, though the U.S. has provided about $60 million in nonlethal aid to Ukraine's military.

White House officials made clear that Poroshenko's visit - his first to the U.S. 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 monthslong 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 U.S. and Western allies have condemned Russia's provocations, levying a series of economic sanctions and restricting President Vladimir Putin's involvement in some international organizations.

But the penalties have done little to shift 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 cease-fire agreement Sept. 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 swaths of the east.

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 Poroshenko's commitment to reform, and Obama will press him Thursday for more aggressive political and economic actions that can stabilize 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. 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 lawmakers, Poroshenko called the deal "a first but very decisive step" toward bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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