KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's new leader, Petro Poroshenko, has agreed to start talks with an envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin about ending separatist violence in the former Soviet republic's easternmost regions.
Mr. Poroshenko took the oath of office as Ukraine's president Saturday, a day after he discussed with Mr. Putin his proposals for the first steps toward a cease-fire. In his inauguration speech, he presented a plan to bring peace to the nation after more than six months of unrest that's pitted the U.S. and Europe against Russia in the worst standoff since the Cold War.
"I know that peace is the most important thing that Ukrainian people desire now," said Mr. Poroshenko, 48.
Mr. Poroshenko, switching between languages to address Russian speakers in their mother tongue, pledged to "preserve and strengthen Ukrainian unity and ensure lasting peace" in the country ravaged by separatist violence. The billionaire, who said he became a grandfather for the first time Saturday, vowed to steer Ukraine toward closer ties with the European Union, create jobs and stamp out corruption.
"There's a window for peace now, but it won't stay indefinitely," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday at a meeting with Mr. Poroshenko in Kiev. "We look for Mr. Putin to meet his end of the commitments and deliver on the pledge to actually work with your government."
After his May 25 landslide election victory, Mr. Poroshenko's ability to repair relations with the country's eastern neighbor will be key to his success in pacifying Ukraine's easternmost regions, where the military is battling a separatist insurgency. Ukraine is awaiting the arrival of Mr. Putin's envoy for talks, Andriy Zhigulin, Mr. Poroshenko's spokesman, said Sunday by phone.
Mr. Poroshenko's speech addressed "all the pressing issues," Yuriy Yakymenko, head of political research at the Razumkov Center, said by phone from Kiev. "The plan of action proposed to stabilize the internal Ukrainian situation is entirely adequate and realistic. Poroshenko clearly prioritized and targeted foreign policy. He also called a spade a spade, what really is happening, and this is important."
Mr. Poroshenko promised safe corridors for "Russian mercenaries" to leave the country and pledged amnesty for those who didn't kill servicemen or civilians. The president said he will present a plan to decentralize power and urged early parliamentary elections. He also vowed to crush the insurgency and protect Ukraine as a "unitary state," while guaranteeing the rights of Russian speakers.
"The head of state has a wide spectrum of different instruments to ensure territorial integrity and peace," Mr. Poroshenko said. "There will be no shortage of authority and decisiveness. I do not seek revenge."
Pro-Russian separatist leaders denounced Mr. Poroshenko, with Alexander Boroday, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, saying he's the "president of another country," according to the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news service. Mr. Boroday and his Luhansk counterpart, Valeriy Bolotov, said the Kiev government must withdraw its army before any talks are possible, according to the news service.
Mr. Poroshenko's remarks "look hopeful" and Russia will continue to have working relations with Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov, Russia's ambassador in Kiev, said Saturday, RIA reported. The issue of Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March, will be peripheral while the two parties work to restore links, Mr. Zurabov said, according to RIA.
Mr. Putin on Saturday ordered security services to enforce the border with Ukraine, according to RIA. The two countries earlier agreed to jointly close sections of the border in the conflict regions, Mr. Poroshenko said Friday in a statement. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said it received notification by the authorities in Kiev of eight checkpoints having been shut.
The U.S. this weekend pledged a $48 million assistance package to Ukraine for tasks including strengthening the border guard service and "confidence-building measures that enhance national unity, particularly in the East and South," according to a statement from the White House.
Mr. Poroshenko and Mr. Putin had a brief meeting Friday in France, where the Russian president also spoke face-to-face with U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time since the crisis in Ukraine escalated in February. Mr. Putin welcomed Mr. Poroshenko's commitment to ending the bloodshed and said the government in Kiev must call off its military campaign against pro-Russian separatists.
Meanwhile, unrest continued in Ukraine's easternmost regions. The army open fire on the insurgents' base in the city of Slovyansk, forcing them to move their weapons stocks elsewhere, the local Novosti Donbassa newswire reported, without citing anyone. Government forces also used artillery on some occupied buildings, it said, without providing details of casualties.
Three crew members from a Ukrainian plane shot down near the city of Slovyansk two days ago died, three have been hospitalized and two are missing, Vladyslav Seleznyov, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said Sunday on Facebook.
The U.S. and its European allies say Mr. Putin is behind the unrest in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds have died in the separatist insurgency. Russia accuses them of backing what it considers an illegitimate administration in Kiev that's using armed force against its own people.
"The Ukrainian leadership must show its goodwill and wisdom," Mr. Putin said at a news conference in Normandy on Friday "They have to immediately stop the operation and announce a cease-fire. There is no other way to create the conditions for negotiations."
Mr. Poroshenko, a businessman with investments including chocolates and media, became Ukraine's fifth president since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Biden and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy were among leaders attending Saturday's ceremony at parliament in Kiev.