KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s next president, Petro Poroshenko, said on Monday he would not negotiate with armed separatists in the Russian-speaking east of his country but was open to dialogue with people there with grievances, provided they rejected violence.
Armed pro-Russian separatists have taken control of some towns and cities in eastern Ukraine, which includes the Donbass coalfield, and prevented people there from voting in Sunday’s presidential election from which Poroshenko has emerged as the resounding victor.
“They want to preserve a bandit state which is held in place by force of arms ... These are simply bandits. Nobody in any civilized state will hold negotiations with terrorists,” Poroshenko told a news conference.
“Protecting people is one of the functions of the state,” said Poroshenko, 48, a confectionary magnate with broad government experience, adding that he supported the continuation of Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” in the region.
The separatists have declared autonomous “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine after two makeshift referendums and say Kiev’s authority is no longer valid there.
Questioned repeatedly about how he would bring peace to the east, where scores have been killed in clashes involving the Ukrainian army, Ukrainian militias and pro-Russian separatists, Poroshenko said Kiev would address genuine grievances and provide assurances on people’s rights there, including the use of the Russian language.
“A dialogue with all residents of the Donbass would be effective,” Poroshenko said.
Russia has expressed sympathy for the separatists, who it says are trying to defend the rights and liberties of the region’s Russian-speaking majority, but it denies arming or training the rebels.
Poroshenko said he hoped to meet Russian leaders in the first half of June, adding that restoring stability in eastern Ukraine would require Moscow’s involvement.
“I hope Russia will support efforts to tackle the situation in the east (of Ukraine),” Poroshenko said.
On the question of Crimea, a Ukrainian region annexed by Moscow in March after a referendum, Poroshenko made clear he would explore all available legal channels to secure the return of the Black Sea peninsula to Kiev’s rule.
“There is no international basis for the annexation of Crimea. With the annexation of Crimea, the entire postwar system of global security was destroyed,” he said.
Poroshenko, who election officials have indicated will probably be inaugurated in mid-June, said he hoped to visit neighboring Poland, a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s hopes of moving closer to the European Union, on June 4.
Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones