KIEV – New Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko said the violence that has rocked the former Soviet republic’s easternmost regions must end this week as peace talks began involving an envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Poroshenko, who took the oath of office Saturday, said negotiations should be held on a daily basis. Sunday’s three- way talks in Kiev included Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Pavlo Klimkin, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov and Heidi Tagliavini, a special representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
“We must stop the violence this week,” Poroshenko said in a statement on his website. “For me, every day when people die, every day when Ukraine pays such a high price, is unacceptable.”
Poroshenko, who was sworn in a day after discussing proposals toward a cease-fire with Putin, used his inauguration speech to present a plan to bring peace to the nation after more than six months of unrest that’s pitted the U.S. and Europe against Russia in the worst standoff since the Cold War. After his May 25 landslide election victory, the 48-year-old billionaire’s ability to repair relations with Russia will be key to his success in pacifying the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the military is battling a separatist insurgency.
Poroshenko on Sunday reiterated that Ukraine must restore functioning borders after fighters crossed from Russia. The step is needed to guarantee the security of citizens in the east “regardless of their political views,” he said.
In his speech Saturday, Poroshenko switched between languages to address Russian speakers in their mother tongue, pledging to “preserve and strengthen Ukrainian unity and ensure lasting peace.” He said he’d steer the nation toward closer ties with the European Union, create jobs and stamp out graft.
The new president has said he is not seeking revenge, offering safe corridors for “Russian mercenaries” to leave the country and an amnesty for those who didn’t kill servicemen or civilians. He’s said he will present a plan to decentralize power and urged early parliamentary elections.
“There’s a window for peace now, but it won’t stay indefinitely,” U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday at a meeting with Poroshenko in Kiev. “We look for Mr. Putin to meet his end of the commitments and deliver on the pledge to actually work with your government.”
Pro-Russian separatist leaders denounced Poroshenko, with Alexander Boroday, leader of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” saying he’s the “president of another country,” according to the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news service. Boroday and his Luhansk counterpart, Valeriy Bolotov, said the Kiev government must withdraw its army before any talks are possible, according to the news service.
Putin on Saturday ordered security services to enforce the border with Ukraine, according to RIA. The two countries earlier agreed to jointly close sections of the border in the conflict regions, Poroshenko said in a statement Friday. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said it received notification by the authorities in Kiev of eight checkpoints having been shut.
The U.S. pledged a $48 million assistance package to Ukraine for tasks including strengthening the border guard service and “confidence-building measures that enhance national unity, particularly in the east and south,” according to a statement from the White House released Saturday.
Poroshenko and Putin had a brief meeting Friday in France, where the Russian president also spoke face to face with U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time since the crisis in Ukraine escalated in February. Putin welcomed Poroshenko’s commitment to ending the bloodshed and said the government in Kiev must call off its military campaign against pro-Russian separatists.
Meanwhile, unrest continued in Ukraine’s easternmost regions. The army opened fire on an insurgent base in the city of Slovyansk, forcing them to move their weapons stocks elsewhere, the local Novosti Donbassa news wire reported, without citing anyone. Government forces also used artillery on some occupied buildings, it said, without providing details of casualties.
Three crew members from a Ukrainian plane shot down near the city of Slovyansk two days ago died, three have been hospitalized and two are missing, Vladyslav Seleznyov, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said Sunday on Facebook.
The U.S. and its European allies say Putin is behind the unrest in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds have died. Russia accuses them of backing what it considers an illegitimate administration in Kiev that’s using armed force against its own people.
“The Ukrainian leadership must show its goodwill and wisdom,” Putin said at a news conference in Normandy on Friday. “They have to immediately stop the operation and announce a cease-fire. There is no other way to create the conditions for negotiations.”
Poroshenko, a businessman with investments including chocolates and media, became Ukraine’s fifth president since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Biden and EU President Herman Van Rompuy were among leaders attending his inauguration ceremony at parliament in Kiev.
“All neighbors stand to benefit from a return to stability in Ukraine and the promotion of growth and development,” Van Rompuy said Saturday in an emailed statement. “All neighbors also need to respect its sovereign choices, including stronger ties with the European Union, and its territorial integrity.”