Poroshenko vows not to let east Ukraine turn into Somalia
KYIV - Agence France-Presse
Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko, left, shake hands with Vitali Klitschko during their press conference in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, May 25, 2014. AP PhotoBillionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko said Monday he would not let rebel-held east Ukraine become another Somalia as he prepared to take over the presidency with a clear signal from Moscow that it is ready to work with his government.
Poroshenko has moved swiftly to stamp his authority as Ukraine's new leader after claiming victory in Sunday's presidential election, with partial results showing he trounced his rivals in the first round.
He said Ukraine would press on with an offensive to crush the pro-Russian separatists waging an insurgency in the eastern industrial belt, despite Moscow warning it would be a "colossal mistake".
"There are no talks with terrorists," the pro-Western tycoon and veteran politician told reporters.
"Their goal is to turn Donbass (east Ukraine) into Somalia. I will not let anyone do this to our state and I hope that Russia will support my approach."
According to latest results, Poroshenko won close to 54 percent in Sunday's vote, seen as the most important in Ukraine's post-Soviet history as it fights to stay united and avert economic collapse.
But the insurgency, which has already cost at least 150 lives, thwarted polling in much of the east and rebels have defiantly refused to recognise the vote.
Russia, which has been threatened with a new round of Western sanctions if it meddled further in Ukraine after its seizure of Crimea in March, said it was willing to work with the new leaders.
"We are ready for pragmatic dialogue, on an equal footing, based on respect for all agreements, in particular in the commercial, economic and gas spheres," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in the Kremlin's first reaction.
"As the president (Vladimir Putin) has said, we respect the result of the choice of the Ukrainian people."
But he said Kiev's plans to pursue operations against the insurgents who have declared independent states in two regions in the east would be a "colossal mistake", and called on the new government should talk to the rebels.
In a sharp reminder of daunting task ahead to bring the east back under Kiev's authority, gunmen early Monday seized control of the airport in the main eastern city of Donetsk and forced it to close.
Poroshenko, a 48-year-old former cabinet minister, had said Sunday he would work immediately to end the insurgency to fix a recession-hit near bankrupt economy.
"My first decisive step will be aimed at ending the war, ending chaos, and bringing peace to a united and free Ukraine," he said.
The latest results put Poroshenko far ahead of his nearest rival, the divisive former prime minister and Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko with 13 percent.
It also means he should avoid the need for a June 15 runoff that would have extended political uncertainty and put more pressure on East-West relations that are already at a post-Cold War low.
Final results are expected later Monday.
However, while turnout was strong across the capital Kiev and the more pro-European west on Sunday, voting was largely blocked in two eastern regions that make up 15 percent of the electorate -- raising concerns about the legitimacy of Poroshenko's mandate.
"We consider that the winner of the election is president of west Ukraine -- he is a half president," said pro-Russian presidential candidate Oleh Tsarov.
The election commission said voting had been suspended by militants in 24 of Ukraine's 213 constituencies.
But US President Barack Obama praised "courageous Ukrainians" for voting in the face of the threat posed by militants who have seized about a dozen cities and towns in a seven-week rebellion.
The ballot was called after Kremlin-allied president Viktor Yanukovych -- his corruption-stained regime long a source of discontent -- was ousted in February in the bloody climax of months of protests sparked by his rejection of a historic EU pact.
Putin responded by seizing Crimea and threatening to invade the rest of Ukraine to "protect" the country's ethnic Russian community, raising the prospect of all out war on Europe's doorstep.
But in the face of more sanctions threats from the West, Russia said last week it had started withdrawing from Ukraine's border around 40,000 soldiers whose presence had raised deep Western suspicions and prompted NATO to send additional fighters to former Soviet satellite states.
"Even Putin will find it difficult to label such a clear result illegitimate," said Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding.
In addition to the political challenges ahead, Poroshenko will have to set in motion painful austerity measures that world lenders are demanding in return for $27 billion (20 billion euros) in aid to prevent bankruptcy.
The country is already in recession, and the International Monetary Fund has warned that the economy is likely to shrink five percent this year.