KIEV, Ukraine – Petro Poroshenko was sworn in as president of Ukraine on Saturday morning and issued a plaintive call for separatists fighting government forces to lay down their arms and negotiate an end to the conflict that is convulsing the country.
The billionaire chocolate manufacturer began his inaugural address with a peace overture to residents of the restive east, at one point switching out of the Ukrainian language in which he delivered the bulk of his speech to speak in Russian.
I don’t want war. I don’t want revenge, he said, adding that he would not negotiate with gunmen and other scoundrels but would offer amnesty to those who do not have the blood of peaceful citizens on their hands.
He also offered safe passage out of Ukraine for Russian nationals who have crossed the border from Russia to join, and in some cases lead, separatist units.
Poroshenko said Ukraine must seek to mend its tattered relations with Russia, but he made clear that he would not even consider giving up its claim to Crimea. The peninsula, where a majority of residents are ethnic Russians, voted overwhelmingly in March to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
Crimea was, is and will be Ukrainian soil, Poroshenko said to a standing ovation from everyone except the Communist Party faction in parliament, adding that all other things can be discussed.
But he also dedicated a part of his remarks to the need to restore trust in government and kick-start the economy.
He said he was prepared to sign an agreement with the European Union that would grant Ukrainian citizens the right to travel visa-free throughout Europe and said he considered such a move a precursor to seeking full membership in the European Union.
We are turning back to Europe, he said. This path is irreversible.