• Voting in Kiev, shortly before Poroshenko claimed victory (Photo: EUobserver)

Ukraine's new leader vows to reunite country, build EU ties

25.05.14 @ 23:11

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

Kiev - Ukraine’s new leader has said reuniting the country and building closer EU ties are his two main tasks, after stomping to victory with more than 55 percent.

Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year old businessman, told a packed press briefing at the Mystetskyi Arsenal, an arts complex in Kiev, on Sunday (25 May) evening: “Exit polls held by the most trustworthy institutions say the elections ended in the first round and the country has a new President.”

“The elections, which were clearly free, clearly fair, clearly demonstrate that Ukrainians are ready to build a new future.”

He noted: “The first steps of my team will focus on ending the war, the chaos, and on bringing peace to Ukraine … A united, strong, non-federated Ukraine will form the principal basis of my presidential programme.”

He added: “My second priority will be to realise the European aspirations of the Ukrainian people.”

He joked than not even a freak hailstorm in Kiev on Sunday managed to stop people voting, but his tone turned serious when asked about relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

He said “terrorists” in eastern Ukraine are “unfortunately, being supported by Russia” and that he will “never” recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

He also described Russia’s attack on Ukraine as a global security crisis because it violated the Budapest Memorandum, a 1994 nuclear disarmament treaty co-signed by the US.

“The invasion of Crimea destroyed the post-Cold-War security system. This is not a bilateral topic,” he said. “I'm sure that we can talk to Russia, with the help of the US.”

Poroshenko spoke shortly after exit polls indicated he won by as much as 57 percent, putting ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko a distant second on 12 percent.

Amid Russian propaganda on mushrooming “fascism” in Ukraine, nationalist candidates, such as Dmytro Yarosh, got less than 2 percent.

At the same time, Ukraine’s Opora election watchdog said that as of 4pm Kiev time, four hours before voting ended, 45 percent of eligible voters had already cast their ballot.

The number was higher in western regions (52 percent) than in the east (37 percent) because Russia-backed gunmen in several eastern towns occupied polling stations and threatened to shoot people. Over 2 million Ukrainians in Crimea had no chance to vote at all.

Preliminary Ukrainian results, and the first assessment by European election monitors, Odihr, are due on Monday.

But US leader Barack Obama sent Ukraine a message of support already on Sunday.

“Despite provocations and violence, millions of Ukrainians went to the polls throughout the country, even in parts of eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatist groups sought to disenfranchise entire regions, some courageous Ukrainians still were able to cast their ballots,” he said.

Poroshenko's inauguration is expected in early June.

He said his first official trip will be to east Ukraine to try to calm the situation.

He is also likely to travel to Brussels at the end of next month to sign an EU free trade agreement alongside Georgia and Moldova.

Diplomatic sources say he is liked by EU leaders and officials, in part because he speaks fluent English and has an open and businesslike manner, unlike his predecessor.

They also say he would risk mass protests in Ukraine if he fudged on signing the EU trade treaty.

But his opponents, such as ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who came a distant second on 13 percent, accuse him of being part of the same corrupt and oligarchic system that the “Maidan” revolution was designed to end.

Over at the President Hotel, a short drive from Poroshenko’s campaign HQ, Hryhoriy Nemyria, the deputy head of Tymoshenko’s party, told EUobserver: “Poroshenko represents the status quo, and given the context, the crisis with Russia, people felt more comfortable with the status quo.”

Some of Nemyria’s colleagues at the largely empty Tymoshenko HQ made little attempt to hide their disappointment.

“His chocolate doesn’t taste as good as it used to,” one contact told this website, referring to Poroshenko’s 'Roshen' confectionary brand.

Tymoshenko’s campaign team wore white t-shirts with pictures of her as Che Guevara, the late Cuban revolutionary.

But for his part, an EU diplomat said both Poroshenko and Tymoshenko represent Ukraine’s old elite.

“We will probably have to wait until the next parliamentary elections to see new political formations, the real leaders of the new Ukraine, begin to emerge,” the source said.

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