Confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko, the apparent winner of Ukraine’s presidential election, vowed Monday to swiftly begin talks with Moscow to bring an end to the violence in eastern Ukraine and restore unity in the bitterly divided country.
The swift pledges from both former Soviet republics to bring an end to the violence that has taken more than 150 lives in recent weeks spurred hopes among the weary advocates of Ukrainian unity that the worst of the confrontation may be over.
Pro-Russia separatists still occupy key government buildings in a dozen towns and cities in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which the militants proclaimed independent of Ukraine after dubious referendums on May 11.
The separatist leaders blocked voters from casting ballots for a new Ukrainian president on Sunday, claiming the two regions that are home to 6.5 million people, about 15% of Ukraine’s population, are no longer part of that country and had no role to play in choosing its next leader.
But without Moscow’s tacit support of the separatist movement and the withdrawal of Russian troops under way from Ukraine’s eastern border, the armed militants claiming autonomy and appealing to Russia for annexation may be unable to maintain control of the territory they have seized at gunpoint.
Russia and Ukraine have a mutual interest in keeping the mines and heavy industrial sites of the Donbass region working, as Russia is the main market for the coal, steel and armaments produced there.
Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying the Ukrainian election was flawed but reiterating that Moscow is prepared to deal with the victor.
With more than half of the votes counted by midday Monday, Poroshenko had 54% and a commanding lead over former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in second place with less than 13%. Exit polls that forecast an easy first-round victory for Poroshenko prompted an immediate expectation that the results would validate the billionaire candy maker's victory when the counting was finished.
“We are ready for dialogue with Kiev representatives, with Petro Poroshenko,” Lavrov said, noting that his victory had yet to be declared official.
“We are ready to cooperate with the EU and USA. regarding assistance in fulfilling the roadmap,” the Russian foreign minister said, referring to a proposal of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that calls for disbanding all illegal armed factions. “However, what concerns relations with Ukraine, I doubt that any mediator is needed.”
Moscow has insisted since the OSCE drafted its guidance for resolving Ukraine’s crisis that the Ukrainian armed forces have been violating the peace plan by attacking pro-Russia gunmen in attempts to recover control of the occupied areas of eastern Ukraine.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the so-called anti-terrorist operation did not end,” Lavrov said of the Ukrainian military deployment in the east, which has made little progress in reasserting government control. Failure to halt the operations now, after the restoration of legitimate leadership in Kiev, “will be a huge mistake,” Lavrov warned.
Poroshenko appeared before journalists in Kiev on Monday morning to say his first trip as president, if the final vote count affirms his victory, would be to Donbass, the industrial belt that flanks the Don River basin and has been at the center of the pro-Russia separatist actions for the past two months.
The oligarch with business operations in Russia as well as Ukraine also said he would visit Moscow in the first part of June to work with Russian leaders on ways of ending the conflict and normalizing relations with Ukraine’s "biggest neighbor."
"Stopping the war and bringing peace to all Ukrainians, stopping the instability in the eastern part of Ukraine, will be impossible without the participation of Russia," Poroshenko said.