News / Europe

    Ukraine's Poroshenko: Restoration of Sovereignty Top Priority for 2016

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gestures while speaking during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 14, 2016.
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gestures while speaking during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 14, 2016.
    Daniel Schearf

    Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, said on Thursday he expected territory in the east held by Russian-backed rebels to return to Ukrainian control before the end of the year. At the same time, he said he hopes to set into motion mechanisms that would lead to the “de-occupation” of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

    Speaking in Kyiv at his first press conference in the new year, Poroshenko said he would use all legal and diplomatic means to resolve the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine.

    "Ukrainian sovereignty over the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions must be restored this year," he said.

    Speaking on the issue of Crimea, Poroshenko said he would propose “setting up an international mechanism for de-occupation of the peninsula” – an effort in which he plans to engage the European Union and the United States.

    While he called the restoration of Kyiv’s sovereignty over rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine a realistic goal for 2016, he conceded that regaining control over Crimea might be a long-term effort.   

    Poroshenko’s comments came a day after negotiators from Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreed to renew efforts on a shaky cease-fire in Ukraine. More than 9,000 people have been killed since pro-Russian rebels seized government buildings in April 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and fighting broke out.  

    Ukraine and the Russian-backed rebels agreed Wednesday to exchange 50 prisoners, with most coming from the Ukrainian side, according to an OSCE representative at the talks.

    Russia sent its new envoy, Boris Gryzlov, to the Minsk meeting after a rare visit Tuesday to Kyiv.  Poroshenko did not confirm reports that he held direct talks with Gryzlov but said he would be willing to meet anyone in order to bring an end to the conflict.

    For Russia, sanctions at issue

    Political analysts say the Kremlin’s appointment of Gryzlov, a former parliamentary speaker, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to see some progress on the February Minsk Agreement to get Western sanctions lifted.  

    “He [Putin] understands the need to soften Russia's strained relations with the European Union, eventually leading to easing and then lifting of the EU sanctions on Russia and then changing the overall climate in the EU-Russia relationship,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center.  “Now, in order to be able to do that, he needs to have the Minsk process completed by having the agreement implemented.”

    FILE - A pro-Russia rebel stands guard during preparations for a prisoner exchange in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 29, 2015.
    FILE - A pro-Russia rebel stands guard during preparations for a prisoner exchange in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 29, 2015.


    The Minsk Agreement failed to meet its original deadline, the end of 2015, because of major sticking points.  Ukrainian politicians disagree on the degree of autonomy for rebel-held areas while the rebels are reluctant to allow open elections and return control of the border with Russia to Ukraine.  

    John Herbst, head of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, says it's not clear how far Putin is willing to go to implement the agreement. 

    “If Minsk is carried out, despite its many flaws, the war in Ukraine's east will end because Russia will not be able to continue providing all the money, supplies, and troops to sustain it,” he said.  “And Moscow's been reluctant to implement it.”

    Putin has repeatedly denied direct Russian involvement in the conflict, but admitted in December that Russia had "people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere."

    Trenin says Putin first wants full autonomy for eastern Ukraine, known as the Donbas, enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution so the region will have a veto on any future efforts to join NATO, the Western military alliance; but, he says Ukraine’s leaders are unlikely to accept that.

    “I think that they [Ukraine's elites] would prefer to wait, to wait for Russia to crack under U.S. pressure, economic hardships, oil price plunge, so that Ukraine doesn't have to do much,” he said.

    Russia’s economy has been contracting as the price of oil, its major export, drops to record lows.  Western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine have cut off its banks from international credit.

    Looking for a new way out

    Herbst says Gryzlov’s appointment shows the Kremlin is looking for a new way out of the current situation.

    “Since September, Moscow has moderated the violence in the east.  And, I think Moscow was hoping that by moderating that violence, it would get Europe to ease the sanctions in January, which did not happen,” he said.  “But, I think they realize that their policy to date has not been a success in Ukraine's east.  And, I think Gryzlov's presence is one more indication of that.  But, what they decide to do is still very much an open question.”

    Ukrainian tanks move near Mariupol, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 21, 2015.
    Ukrainian tanks move near Mariupol, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 21, 2015.


    Herbst agrees with most analysts who say the impasse means the best case scenario would be a frozen conflict.  

    Trenin believes the Donbas will eventually be negotiated back under a unified Ukraine but only in name but that Russia will never give up Crimea.  

    In his press conference Thursday, Poroshenko hinted that aside from enlisting help from the EU and the U.S. on the Crimea issue, he might also reach out to the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum.  

    The Budapest Memorandum was a 1994 agreement Ukraine made with Britain, Russia, and the United States to give up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons – some of them to Moscow - in return for security guarantees, including that its borders would be respected.  

    You May Like

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora