Ukraine’s Next President Vows to Restore Order and Mend Russia Ties
The New York Times
By David M. Herszenhorn
KIEV, Ukraine — The president-elect of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, vowed on Monday to restore order in the country’s east, which is besieged by pro-Russian separatist violence, but said he would not negotiate with armed rebels and instead would demand swifter results from a military campaign that has achieved only limited success.
While Mr. Poroshenko has said that he would push for parliamentary elections before the end of the year, on Monday he said he saw no reason for the removal of Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk and other leaders of the interim government, which has been running Ukraine since the toppling of President Viktor F. Yanukovych in February.
Mr. Poroshenko also promised to mend ties with the Kremlin, citing his business connections to Russia as well as his personal relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin, who has promised to respect the Ukrainian election results.
“Most probably the meeting with the Russian leadership will certainly take place in the first half of July,” Mr. Poroshenko said at a Kiev news conference. “We should be very ready tactically in approach to this meeting, because first we should create an agenda, we should prepare documents, so that it will not be just to shake hands.”
He added: “Because Mr. Putin and I know each other quite well, and I think this will lead to very important results. People in the east are waiting for these results.”
Mr. Poroshenko’s remarks came as rebels seized the airport in Donetsk. While Ukrainian forces appeared to have forcibly evicted the rebels from the airport later in the day, the fight illustrated the formidable obstacles Mr. Poroshenko faces in trying to stop the country from sliding further into civil war.
Official election returns confirmed Monday that Mr. Poroshenko had won in a landslide over his strongest rival, the former prime minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko. With more than 85 percent of ballots counted, Mr. Poroshenko had 54 percent — well above the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Ms. Tymoshenko had 13 percent, a stinging defeat for one of Ukraine’s predominant political figures, who was a nemesis of Mr. Yanukovych. She served more than three years in prison on charges largely viewed in the West as politically motivated and was released hours after Mr. Yanukovych fled Kiev, following his failed but bloody effort to suppress a monthslong uprising.
In the end, voters viewed Ms. Tymoshenko, who twice served as prime minister and ran unsuccessfully for president in 2010, as a representative of Ukraine’s old system. Ms. Tymoshenko’s next step was not immediately clear, but she was expected to continue a prominent role in Ukraine’s affairs through her political party, Fatherland.
In a surprise, a previously little-known Radical Party candidate, Oleh Lyashko, finished third in the balloting with 8.5 percent. Mr. Lyashko won publicity — and some notoriety — for forming a vigilante unit of supporters who battled separatists in the east, in some cases videotaping their achievements, including detention of some separatist fighters.
While eastern separatists largely prevented voting there, and balloting was impossible in Crimea, the southern peninsula annexed by Russia, international observers on Monday gave Ukraine’s special presidential election high marks. They said that it was carried out in fairness and openness, and that voter turnout nationally was quite strong.
“This election proved the democratic spirit of the people of Ukraine, who had the opportunity to genuinely express their will at the ballot box and seized it in high numbers,” said João Soares, the special coordinator of a short-term observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation group that includes Ukraine and Russia. Other monitoring groups also praised the vote.
Some American officials, in Ukraine to monitor the balloting, called for additional sanctions on Russia in response to the disruptions of voting in the east.
Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who along with other Republicans has sharply criticized the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, said in an interview in Kiev that further penalties against Russia were justified.
“We know this was Russia,” Ms. Ayotte said. “Putin has control there. He could stop it if he really put his foot down.”
Ms. Ayotte, a member of the Armed Services Committee, also said that Mr. Poroshenko had appealed for greater military and technical assistance in a private meeting with American officials.
“He wants to unify the east, he wants to reach out and have conversations,” Ms. Ayotte said. “He recognizes the barrier to that is the security situation, and he would like us to push back against Putin.”
Other Americans who observed the voting included Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio; Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland; and the former secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright.
Mr. Cardin said he was particularly moved after touring the area around Independence Square in Kiev, the protest site where scores of demonstrators were killed in clashes with the riot police in February. “You can’t help but be struck by the amount of pain inflicted on the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Cardin said at a news conference.
Mr. Poroshenko, a pro-European billionaire, is a veteran of Ukrainian politics, having served as Parliament speaker, foreign minister and trade minister. He made his fortune in chocolate, but now also owns businesses in many other sectors, including a television station, as well as in shipping, agriculture and automobiles.
At the news conference on Monday, Mr. Poroshenko said that he would now sell all of his assets except the television station, Channel 5.
Regarding the crackdown on the eastern rebels, Mr. Poroshenko said: “It has to take a shorter period of time. It has to be more effective. Subdivisions and units have to be better equipped. They must have modern weaponry, the best ammunition.”
Using the abbreviation for “antiterror operation,” the Kiev government’s term for the crackdown, he also said: “The A.T.O. cannot and will not last two or three months. It must and will last hours.”
Mr. Poroshenko said that economic development and job creation were critical to restoring order. “The level of unemployment,” he said, “pushes people to participate in these actions, and we must create conditions for people to return to jobs.”