President-elect Petro Poroshenko set Ukraine on a collision course with Russia even before the last vote had been counted, vowing to step up operations to rein in separatists in the east of the country.
“There will be a sharp increase in the efficiency of anti-terrorist operations,” Poroshenko said in Kiev today. “They won’t last two or three months; they’ll last a few hours.” In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that any escalation would be a “colossal mistake.”
The difficulty of Poroshenko’s task was clear in Donetsk, where paratroopers, helicopters and warplanes were deployed after rebels ignored an ultimatum to leave the local airport. A clash between government forces and gunmen near the city’s railway station left one dead, Novosti Donbassa reported.
Poroshenko is faced with a shrinking economy and a pro-Russian separatist movement that’s captured large swathes of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, threatening to rip the former Soviet republic apart. Russia annexed the Black Sea Crimean peninsula in March.
Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that the U.S. “respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, condemns and rejects Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, and remains committed to working with Ukraine and other partners to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
Yet in Donetsk, the election brought no lull in the violence. As evening fell, fighter aircraft were again seen in the skies and explosions were heard in the city, with renewed fighting near the railway station, the Ostrov news website reported. The Novosti Donbassa news agency reported that a column of about 40 trucks carrying armed men was seen in Russia approaching the border with the Donetsk region. Fighting was also reported in Slovyansk and Mariupol.
In his first comments after the vote, Poroshenko said last night that he’d seek to end the “war, chaos and disorder” by visiting the troubled eastern regions and working with Russia. Ukraine’s Central Election Commission declared him the winner with 54.2 percent of the vote, with 90 percent of ballots counted, Novosti Donbassa said.
Lavrov said the fact the vote was held is positive and reiterated President Vladimir Putin’s earlier pledge to respect the election’s outcome. There’s now an opportunity to establish a “mutually respectful, equal dialogue,” he said.
While Poroshenko and Lavrov rattled sabers, Ukraine and Russia took a step toward rapprochement on the divisive issue of natural-gas payments during talks in Berlin.
NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy is prepared to pay $2 billion to OAO Gazprom by May 29 to cover arrears, said EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger. A $500 million payment would follow by June 7 if the countries’ governments approve.
Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said the Ukrainian government would respond by Wednesday evening.
Poroshenko said he’d call early parliamentary elections in 2014 as the nation seeks to draw a line under the rule of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed leader who fled for Moscow in February after deadly street protests backing closer European ties.
With a fortune of $1 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Poroshenko has flaunted his business acumen and promised to boost wages by nurturing employment and gearing the economy toward Europe through a trade pact. He reiterated yesterday that he’d sell his assets that include the Roshen chocolate company and will hire a bank to help.
The tycoon, who speaks Ukrainian and Russian fluently, is known for his ability to work with different camps. He was foreign minister under President Viktor Yushchenko, the hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution that helped overturn Yanukovych’s election win, before serving as economy minister under Yanukovych, who had returned to power in 2010.