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From Kiev, An Olive Branch For Russia — And A Saber For Separatists


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. Fighting in Eastern Ukraine went on today with Moscow and Kiev accusing each other of responsibility for the bloodshed. It's reported that about 50 separatists have been killed since yesterday. Ukraine's likely new president won't be sworn in until next month, but attention is already focusing on what Petro Poroshenko will or can do to resolve Ukraine's numerous crises. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Kiev.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Petro Poroshenko was elected as a peacemaker, and his first task is to bring an end to the violence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. And he says dialogue with armed bandits doesn't work. What could work, he told reporters in Kiev, is a meeting with the Russian leadership, provided the groundwork is laid properly.

PETRO POROSHENKO: And that would be not just to shake hands because me and Mr. Putin know each other quite well. People in the East are waiting for these results. Every single day, for delaying this negotiation with the participation of our partners from the United States, from the European Union, Ukraine pay quite a high price.

KENYON: Political analyst, Brian Mefford, says of all the candidates, Poroshenko is seen as having the best chance of stabilizing ties with Russia and, thereby pacifying Eastern Ukraine. Mefford says those hopes may be optimistic, but Ukraine doesn't have many options at this point.

BRIAN MEFFORD: Well, he'll certainly make an attempt. And the reality is relations between Ukraine and Russia are so bad now that anything that's done to improve them will be a plus. My sense is, if you look at the statements coming out of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russia's made its point, so to speak. And now they're ready to work with, it appears, the new Ukrainian president.

KENYON: At 48 years of age, Petro Poroshenko has enjoyed his reputation as Ukraine's chocolate king, although his business empire extends to media, automobiles and other industries. And while his own views are pro-Western, he's managed to work with both pro-European and pro-Russian presidents. George Logush, president of the Kiev School of Economics is an American who worked in Ukraine's private sector for years - in the food industry, as it happens, where he knew Poroshenko as a competitor. He says the billionaire seems to have a rare quality among Ukraine's one percent - a sense of civic duty.

GEORGE LOGUSH: He went into politics, not with the idea of enrichment the way other wealthy entrepreneurs and industrialists in Ukraine did, but really to make a difference.

KENYON: Not everyone is happy turning the reins of power over to another oligarch. Many of the activists in Independent Square are longing for a new face, a new generation of leaders. But Poroshenko's moves thus far have been popular, especially his announcement that he would either sell off his businesses or put his holdings in a blind trust. That kind of transparency is so unusual here that Ukrainians are mostly overlooking the fact that Poroshenko intends to hang on to his TV station, Channel Five, which broadcasts a steady diet of pro-Ukrainian, and pro-Poroshenko, news and information. If and when the situation in the east can be stabilized, economist George Logush says Poroshenko faces a staggering list of socioeconomic problems, starting with the government itself.

LOGUSH: Government in Ukraine is much too large. Bureaucracies are bloated with individuals who really have no good function. Previous governments have built a huge maze of regulations, basically to snag people at various stages of gaining approval for projects or whatever else they need to do in order to get additional payment under the table - white envelopes, as they're called.

KENYON: What Poroshenko's aides call the to-do-list is long and daunting, but for the time being says political scientist Andreas Umland- at Kyiv's-Mohyla Academy - Poroshenko needs to focus intensely on the armed insurgents roaming the East, and the trucks that Ukraine's border service says are re-supplying them nearly every night from across the border in Russia.

ANDREAS UMLAND: I think this task is so paramount that basically everything else comes second. So, the main issue now for Ukraine is not any longer the rule of law and civil society, corruption, things like that -- but the main issue is now security, stability, protection of the state.

KENYON: For now, Ukrainians are pleased to see Petro Poroshenko poised to lead, accepting congratulations from President Obama and others. But they also wonder how much worse this crisis could get before he's even sworn in. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.