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On Saturday, Ukraine inaugurated its elected president Petro Poroshenko. Poroshenko, who made his fortune through sweets manufacturing, bluntly refused the legitimacy of Ukraine’s loss of Crimea in his inaugural address Saturday. His address was given before Ukrainian parliament with Western officials from the United States and Europe in attendance.
Earlier in the year Russia held a secession referendum in Crimea which was voted on by residents and government officials from the peninsula. In March the peninsula, which is largely populated by ethnic Russians, was annexed by Russia.
“Crimea was, is and will be Ukrainian,” said Poroshenko in the address. Kiev and Western leaders continue to accuse Russia and its president Vladimir Putin of inciting and arming the separatist rebellion that continues to threaten Ukrainian unity. This accusation is refuted by Russia despite widespread reports of Russian citizens involved in separatist activity in eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko and Putin met on Friday in Normandy France during the 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration. Moscow has not yet explicitly recognized Poroshenko’s legitimacy as Ukrainian president although it has said it is ready to work with him. Moscow calls into question the election’s legitimacy, hailed as admirably democratic by Western governments, due to its perceived unconstitutionality of the ousting of former pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
Moscow has called for Ukraine to cease its “anti-terrorist operation” in the east, where escalated fighting has taken place since Poroshenko’s decisive victory in polls. Leaders such as Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the G7, formerly the G8 until the suspension of Russia’s participation, threatened Russia with new and tougher sanctions should the country not prove demonstrable cooperation with Ukraine in easing tensions by the end of the month.
In light of these threats by the West, Putin on Saturday ordered his Federal Security Service to reinforce protection of the Russian-Ukraine border to stop the flow of arms from Russia to Ukrainian rebels. Putin said of his meeting with Poroshenko on Friday that he cannot help but “welcome the position of Poroshenko” out of the necessity to “end the bloodletting immediately” in Ukraine.
Ukraine was granted $48 million from Washington for economic reforms, in response to his pledged policy of Western ties. Yanukovich was ousted after rioting over his refusal of an EU agreement. Poroshenko said he will sign an agreement with the EU this month to enter a free-trade zone with the EU. Putin threatened he would enforce trade restrictions on Ukraine if it signed this economic treaty with the EU. Ukraine currently gets a large portion of its gas power from Russian companies such as Gazprom which is facing possible fresh sanctions. The EU through Ukraine receives gas from Russia.
In the inaugural address by Poroshenko, along with his refusal of the loss of Crimea, he stated despite pressure by Putin to deny the economic agreement with the EU he would sign off on the agreement “by June 27 at the latest.” He also promised “new opportunities for the Russian language.”
Although Poroshenko refuses the loss of Crimea, analysts say there may be no possible mechanisms to force Russia to hand the territory back to Ukraine. Many agree his priorities should stick to ending the rebellion uprisings in the east. Poroshenko has taken several routes to address this issue, most recently with his promised Russian-language rights and concession of some power to regional governments.
By Jesse Eells-Adams