Ukraine's New President Vows Not To Give Up Crimea

Ukraine's new president, Petro Poroshenko, was inaugurated Saturday. Analyst Olexiy Haran tells NPR's Scott Simon that the Chocolate King, as he's known, hopes to mend ties with Russia.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Petro Poroshenko has been inaugurated as president of Ukraine. And he told the Ukrainian parliament, Crimea was, is and will be Ukrainian. But as separatists attacks continue in the Eastern region of his country, president Poroshenko called for peace and asked armed groups to lay down their weapons. We're joined now by Olexiy Haran, who joins us by Skype. He's a professor of politics at Kyiv-Mohyla University in Kyiv. Mr. Haran, thanks very much for being with us.

OLEXIY HARAN: Yes, and thanks to the USA for sending Vice President Biden to the inauguration ceremony.

SIMON: Well, he was there with a group of other world leaders. And Mr. Poroshenko also met Vladimir Putin yesterday at D-Day ceremonies, but the two at least visibly didn't exchange a handshake. What kind of appraisal would you give it?

HARAN: Well, I think it's good that the contact took place. But I think it's very important that actually Russia would like to have negotiations bilateral. And it's important to preserve, also, talks in the format where the U.S. and the EU are participating - Geneva format - because we need support of our international partners. And definitely what we hear today from Poroshenko, a very strong and decisive statements important for Ukrainian audiences - that he's not recognizing the violation of territorial integrity of Ukraine in Crimea and in Donbass. And he actually proposed to create a controlled corridor for exit of Russian mercenaries. So I think, actually, this is a very realistic proposal.

SIMON: But President Poroshenko, on the one hand, said Crimea was, is and will be Ukraine. And on the other hand, he did offer an amnesty to people who would lay down their arms. And as you mentioned, this corridor or free passage so that Russian paramilitary and others might get out without incident. Is this a balancing act?

HARAN: Yeah. Well, I think it's very - I see no contradiction at all. Russia definitely behaved as an aggressor, that's very clear to all - not only to Ukrainian people. But in solving the present war, which is supported by Russia, I think this is the right approach.

SIMON: Professor Haran, obviously a lot of attention that President Poroshenko's speech has gotten in this country has been about Crimea and the relationship with Russia. But Ukraine has plenty of economic problems, and arguably that was an important part of bringing down his predecessor. What did he say in the speech to address that?

HARAN: Well, he's ready to fight corruption. That's important statement, especially given the fact that he's also a businessman. So he's going to separate his business from politics. He also said that he's ready to sign economic association agreement with the EU as soon as possible. And he showed in his hands the (unintelligible).

I would like also to stress that Poroshenko said that he doesn't want to change the basic of Ukrainian Constitution. So he do not want to acquire additional authority for him as a president. That's again, very, very important because we have already seen dictator in our country, and the country turned back to the constitutional reform. And I think that Poroshenko - it's a very positive fact that Poroshenko has stressed it.

SIMON: Professor Olexiy Haran speaking with us from Kyiv. Thanks very much for being with us.

HARAN: Thank you very much.

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