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US House Urges Obama to Send Lethal Arms to Ukraine

March 24, 2015 (Photo Credit: Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Washington — American lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Monday to urge President Obama to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend itself against Russian "aggression."

The US House of Representatives approved the resolution in a broadly bipartisan 348-48 vote, heaping further pressure on the Obama administration to end its delays in providing weapons and other heavy military equipment to Kiev forces.

Congress has spoken with a largely united voice on the issue — several lawmakers have spoken out about directly arming Ukraine forces — but there are splits in the Obama administration.

Following reported violations of a ceasefires between Ukraine's government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels, the White House this month announced it will deliver a $75-million package of non-lethal defensive equipment to the Ukrainians.

But Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he would "absolutely consider providing lethal aid," while Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said at his confirmation hearing that he too was "inclined" in that direction.

Monday's measure urges Obama to provide Ukraine with "lethal defensive weapon systems" that would enhance Ukraine's ability to "defend their sovereign territory from the unprovoked and continuing aggression of the Russian Federation."

House Speaker John Boehner described the vote as a call to action, and said Congress broadly supports more military aid.

"Without action from this administration, Russia's aggression will continue to be left unchecked," he said after the vote.

House Democrat Eliot Engel, the lead sponsor of the resolution, told colleagues it was time to stop treating the Ukraine crisis "as just some faraway conflict."

"This war has left thousands of dead, tens of thousands wounded, a million displaced, and has begun to threaten the post-Cold War stability of Europe," Engel said, adding that Russian President Putin is "knocking us back into ... the bad old days of the Cold War.

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