Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday May 29th, 2014INTRO The election of a new President of Ukraine is widely seen as a positive development. But as commentator and veteran ABC foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells us today, many uncertainties remain.
TEXT: Ukraine’s President- elect Petro Poroshenko , who won a landslide victory in elections this past Sunday is about the best news the country has had since the latest crisis began last November. At 48 years old he is vigorous. He is experienced, having served as foreign minister in a previously pro western Ukrainian government, and as economics minister under the pro-Russian President Yanukovych He broke with Yanukovych when he rejected a deal last November to move Ukraine toward integration with the European Union. When protesters in Kiev rose up last against that decision, Pororshenko sided with the demonstrators, and appeared with them in the now iconic square known as the Maidan.
Poroshenko is a billionaire, having become one as a chocolate maker. He has wide spread financial interests in both the pro- Russian eastern Ukraine and in Russia itself. He appears to be one of the few Ukrainian political leaders who didn’t get rich by stealing from government coffers. He of course speaks Russia and Ukrainian, and based on what I’ve heard in recent days, quite passable English.
In a news conference this week he made several remarks that show a realistic grasp of Ukraine’s current situation, which are worth noting. “Russia is our biggest neighbor,” said Poroshenko.” Stopping the war and bringing stability to all Ukraine,… that would be impossible without Russia.”
Poroshencko says he wants to meet with Russian President Putin, as soon as feasible. “I know Putin” he said. ”I have extensive experience in discussions with him, He is a strong and tough negotiator. “
What the Russians think of Poroshenko has recently gone through a major shift.
Only a month ago, Russian television portrayed him as money-grubbing, devious, radical sympathizer. It mocked him as “the Chocolate Rabbit”, rather than the Chocolate King” as he is known in Ukraine. The report even presented an alleged scientist in a white coat, who claimed Poroshenko’s chocolate was riddled with carcinogens.
But what a difference a month can make. After Poroshenko emerged as the likely president of Ukraine, his chocolate factory in southern Russia was re-opened and Putin himself made a passing reference on television that Poroshenko’s chocolate was “ edible.” But of more significance, Putin said this, to a group of journalists in St. Petersburg.: “We will, by all means, respect the choice of the Ukrainian people and cooperate with the authorities that come to power.”
These developments among others prompted New York Times columnist Tom Friedman to suggest Putin “blinked” in his new confrontation with the West. I think that is premature. And the fact that a Ukrainian helicopter was shot down today over eastern Ukraine, killing all 14 soldiers aboard including a general, raises questions again about Russia’s true intentions
An all- out Russian invasion of Ukraine is looking less likely. But Russian sponsored militiamen and separatists causing uncertainty and turmoil in the east, are showing no signs of letting up.
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