'Chocolate King' brings in a fresh era for Ukraine
Symbolic gesture by Russia at swearing in of new president
HOPES rose of a resolution of the Ukraine crisis following the inauguration of Petro Poroshenko as the post-revolution president yesterday and a move by the Kremlin to tighten up on cross-border infiltration to the rebel eastern regions.
Mr Poroshenko used his inaugural address to the Ukrainian parliament and foreign guests, including Joe Biden, the US vice-president, to pledge that Ukraine would never give up Crimea despite Russia's annexation of the territory.
"There can be no trade-off about Crimea and about the European choice and about the governmental system. All other things can be negotiated and discussed at the negotiation table," he said.
"Crimea was, is, and will be Ukrainian."
A day after an ice-breaking meeting with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, the inauguration was closely watched for language that could ease the rupture between Moscow and Kiev caused by the overthrow of the last president in February, following protests.
Russian officials described Mr Poroshenko's remarks as positive during the encounter at the D-Day commemorations in Normandy on Friday, and on his return to Moscow, Mr Putin appeared on television to order his Federal Security Service to stop illegal border crossings. Ukraine and its Western allies have repeatedly called on Russia to stop armed groups moving into eastern Ukraine, where militias have seized key cities.
A billionaire universally known as the 'Chocolate King', Mr Poroshenko made an impassioned plea for the unity of his country.
Addressing the people of the eastern half of the country in Russian, he offered a peace plan to overcome divisions.
"I don't want war; I don't want revenge. I want peace and I want peace to happen," he said after taking the oath and brandishing the mace of office in the parliament. "Please, lay down the guns, and I guarantee immunity to all those who don't have bloodshed on their hands."
In a significant gesture, Russia sent its ambassador to the inauguration ceremony in Kiev. Mikhail Zurabov, the Kremlin's envoy, said the speech was a "promising declaration of intent".
On meeting face to face, Mr Poroshenko and Mr Putin appeared to find some common ground on the questions of the dispute over territory, the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians and a stand-off over Russian supplies of gas to Kiev.
"The approach seems to me altogether right: he has pleased me," declared Mr Putin.
"I can't tell exactly how this will be implemented, but in general, I liked the attitude. It seemed right to me, and if this is what really happens, there will be conditions created to develop our relations in other fields, too."
Mr Poroshenko said the security of Ukrainians could not be guaranteed until the breach caused by the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, the exiled president, was repaired.
"A Russian representative will travel to Ukraine, and we will discuss with him the first steps towards a plan [to resolve] the situation," he said.
"We have a good chance of implementing it."
However, Russian-backed rebels in control of eastern cities dismissed his overtures. Valery Bolotov, governor of the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic" rejected Ukrainian rule.
"The Ukrainians have made their choice and they must live with it. As for our republic, we have no diplomatic relations with Ukraine," he said.
"Today, Ukraine got a new president, and now the blood of our people and of Ukrainians will lie on his conscience."