Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko says he will not give up Crimea and will press for further ties with the European Union, but warns Ukraine must settle for better relations with Russia too.
Ukraine’s newly elected president said Crimea “was, is and will be Ukrainian” in his inaugural speech to parliament following his election on 25 May.
Mr Poroshenko was greeted with a standing ovation and gave an emotional address, saying Ukraine would not become a federalised state as advocated by Russia.
The 48-year-old was elected weeks after his pro-Russian predecessor was ousted during street protests and faces an ongoing crisis in relations with Moscow following its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March.
The Crimea crisis has reignited tensions between Russia and the west in the worst dispute since the end of the cold war.
Mr Poroshenko, a billionaire who is known as the “Chocolate King” after earning his fortune from confectionery, said he planned very soon to sign the economic part of an association agreement with the EU, as a first step towards full membership.
Moscow is staunchly opposed to Ukraine forming closer ties with Europe and wants to keep the country in its own post-Soviet sphere of influence.
Mr Poroshenko said: “Citizens of Ukraine will never enjoy the beauty of peace unless we settle down our relations with Russia. Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is, and will be Ukrainian soil.”
“There can be no trade-off about Crimea and about the European choice and about the governmental system,” he added.
“All other things can be negotiated and discussed at the negotiation table. Any attempts at internal or external enslavement of Ukraine will meet with resolute resistance.”
Since Poroshenko’s election, Ukrainian forces have intensified their campaign against pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine who want to become part of Russia.
The rebels have continued their resistance, turning parts of the east into a war zone. On Friday they shot down a Ukrainian army plane and killed a member of the interior ministry’s special forces in the separatist stronghold of Slaviansk, where residents said shelling continued all day.
Mr Poroshenko urged the separatists to lay down their arms and said he would guarantee a safe corridor for Russian fighters to go home.
“I don’t want war, I don’t want revenge,” he said. “I want peace and I want peace to happen. Please, lay down the guns and I guarantee immunity to all those who don’t have bloodshed on their hands.”
He switched from Russian to Ukrainian to address people in the east, and said they had been duped by myths about the Kiev leadership which had been stoked by Russian propaganda.
He said he would soon visit them with guarantees of Russian-language rights and proposals for de-centralisation, that would give their regions a bigger say in running their own affairs.