New Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko yesterday called for dialogue with the country’s east, gripped by a violent separatist insurgency, and for armed groups to lay down their weapons, but said he would not talk with rebels he called “gangsters and killers.”
Poroshenko’s inaugural address after taking the oath of office in parliament gave little sign of a quick resolution to the conflict in the east, which Ukrainian officials say has left more than 200 people dead.
He also took a firm line on Russia’s annexation of Crimea this spring, insisting that the Black Sea peninsula “was, is and will be Ukrainian.”
He gave no indication of how Ukraine could regain control of Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has said was allotted to Ukraine unjustly under then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Rebel leaders in the east dismissed Poroshenko’s speech.
“This statement doesn’t concern us,” said the so-called prime minister of the insurgent Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
Poroshenko offered amnesty to rebels who “don’t have blood on their hands.”
However, “I don’t believe it,” said Valery Bolotov, the insurgent leader in the Luhansk region. Rebels in both Luhansk and Donetsk have declared their regions independent.
The new president said “I will bring you peace,” but did not indicate whether Ukrainian forces would scale back their offensives against the insurgency, which Ukraine says is fomented by Russia.
Russia has insisted on Ukraine ending its military operation.
Russian Ambassador Mikhail Zurabov, representing Moscow at the inauguration, said Poroshenko’s statements “sound reassuring,” but “for us, the principal thing is to stop the military operation,” RIA Novosti reported.
As president, Poroshenko is commander-in-chief of the military and appoints the defense and foreign ministers. The prime minister is appointed by the parliament.
The 48-year-old Poroshenko, often called “The Chocolate King” because of the fortune he made as a confectionery tycoon, was elected on May 25. He replaces Oleksandr Turchynov, who served as interim president after Russia-friendly ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February after months of street protests against him.
The fall of Yanukovych aggravated long-brewing tensions in eastern and southern Ukraine, whose majority native Russian speakers denounced the new government as a nationalist putsch that aimed to suppress them.
Within a month, the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia after a secession referendum and an armed insurgency arose in Donetsk and Luhansk.
In his inaugural address, attended by dignitaries including US Vice President Joseph Biden, US Senator John McCain and US Representative Marci Kaptur, Poroshenko promised amnesty “for those who do not have blood on their hands” and called for dialogue with “peaceful citizens” in the east.