Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a combative inaugural speech that Ukraine would not give up Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from it in March.
“Crimea was, is, and will be Ukrainian,” Poroshenko said in an emotional address after his swearing-in on Saturday. He was greeted with a standing ovation.
He stressed the unity of Ukraine, which is fighting a pro-Russian separatist uprising in the east, and said it would not become a federalised state as advocated by Moscow.
Poroshenko also said he intended very soon to sign the economic part of an association agreement with the European Union, as a first step towards full membership.
The new president promised amnesty “for those who do not have blood on their hands.”
That appeared to apply both to separatist, pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east and to nationalist groups that oppose them.
Poroshenko also promised dialogue with citizens in the eastern regions, but excluded the rebels.
“Talking to gangsters and killers is not our avenue,” he said, according to a translator. He also called for early regional elections in the east.
Government forces continued to battle rebel fighters in the east even as Poroshenko, 48, took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural speech on Saturday.
Kiev began an intensified campaign against the rebels the morning after Poroshenko’s May 25 election, with the rebels fighting back and turning parts of the east into a war zone.
The billionaire confectionary magnate will be Ukraine’s fifth president since independence and its first since 1991 to win election with more than half the vote in a single round.
Poroshenko has promised to bridge the east-west divide that has split the country and thrust it into a battle for its very survival.
Western governments and Russia, locked in a geopolitical fight over Ukraine’s future, will be watching for clues on how he intends to handle the eastern rebellions.
Poroshenko says he wants closer relations with Europe, and won support and encouragement for his policies to stabilise Ukraine when he met US President Barack Obama and European leaders in Poland and France this week.
He also briefly met Putin in France during ceremonies marking the World War Two D-Day landings on Friday, and may have discussed a possible ceasefire with the rebels.
Putin said he welcomed Poroshenko’s plans to stop the bloodshed, but said Ukraine must stop its “punitive” military operation.
Russia rejects charges by Kiev and the West that it is actively supporting the rebels in the Russian-speaking east.
The fighting since Poroshenko’s election has revealed that many of the rebels are from Russia, with dozens of dead bodies of fighters sent back across the frontier.
In a small sign of a thaw, Moscow is sending its ambassador – withdrawn after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in February – back to Kiev to attend the swearing in.
Moscow has also begun withdrawing some of the tens of thousands of troops it had massed on the frontier.
The uprising in the east is not the only challenge facing Poroshenko, who inherits a country on the verge of bankruptcy, still dependent on Russia for natural gas, and rated by watchdogs as one of the most corrupt and ill-governed states in Europe.
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(via Al Jazeera)