KIEV, UKRAINE — Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s new president, on Saturday called for pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east to lay down their arms and welcomed dialogue with the insurgents, but he said he wouldn’t negotiate with those he called “gangsters and killers” and struck a defiant tone on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula.
In his inaugural address, attended by dignitaries including Vice President Joe Biden, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Poroshenko promised amnesty “for those who do not have blood on their hands” and called for dialogue with “peaceful citizens” in the east.
Biden later met with Poroshenko and said, “There is a window for peace, and you know as well as anyone that it will not stay open indefinitely. … America is with you.”
Biden also promised an additional $ 48 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine to carry out economic and constitutional reforms and strengthen the border guard service. Washington previously announced $ 50 million in “crisis response” aid and $ 23 million for security assistance.
Crimea in dispute
Poroshenko’s inaugural address after taking the oath of office in parliament gave little sign of a quick resolution to the conflict in the east, which Ukrainian officials say has left more than 200 people dead.
He also firmly insisted that Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in March, “was, is and will be Ukrainian.” He gave no indication of how Ukraine could regain control of Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has said was allotted to Ukraine unjustly under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Hours after the speech, Putin ordered security tightened along Russia’s border with Ukraine to prevent illegal crossings, Russian news agencies said. Ukraine claims that many of the insurgents in the east have come from Russia; Poroshenko on Saturday said he would offer a corridor for safe passage of “Russian militants” out of the country.
Rebel leaders in the east dismissed Poroshenko’s speech.
“At the moment it’s impossible for him to come (to Donetsk for talks),” said Denis Pushilin, a top figure in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. “Perhaps with security, a group, so people won’t tear him to pieces.”
Biden’s visit Saturday to support Ukraine’s fragile democracy came soon after his youngest son was hired by a private Ukrainian company that promotes energy independence from Moscow.
Yet that company leases natural gas fields in the breakaway Russian-backed state of Crimea and is owned by a former government minister with ties to Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president.
The hiring of Hunter Biden, 44, by Burisma Holdings Limited in April was approved by the company’s owner, a former senior minister and political ally of Viktor Yanukovych, the exiled Ukrainian president. Yanukovych fled to Russia in February after protests erupted over his efforts to establish closer economic ties with Moscow.
Hunter Biden’s employment means he will be working as a director and top lawyer for a Ukrainian energy company during the period when his father and others in the Obama administration attempt to influence the policies of Ukraine’s new government, especially on energy issues.
White House officials declined to comment on Hunter Biden’s association with Burisma and the company’s holdings in Crimea and east Ukraine.
The vice president’s spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, previously said that Biden’s son is a private citizen and a lawyer, and that Joe Biden “does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company.”
Demands on Russia
The U.S-Russian standoff over Ukraine moves into a new phase this weekend, with fresh rules and an uncertain path forward.
During this week’s trip to Europe, President Barack Obama and Group of Seven colleagues made new demands on Russian President Putin and threatened new sanctions if he did not cut off support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
“They need to stop financing and arming separatists who have been wreaking havoc in the eastern part of the country,” Obama told NBC News in an interview broadcast Friday. “If Russia begins to act in accordance with basic international principles, then I’m confident that the United States-Russia relationship will improve.”
Putin, who spoke Friday with new Ukrainian President Poroshenko, has pledged to seek peace.
Aid to Moldova, Georgia
The U.S. is offering new financial assistance to Moldova and Georgia, two former Soviet republics the West seeks to lure toward Europe.
Vice President Biden announced the aid in Kiev during meetings with both nations’ presidents on the sidelines of the new Ukrainian president’s inauguration.
Both Moldova and Georgia are pursuing association agreements with the European Union amid a regional crisis over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
The White House says an additional $ 8 million will help Moldova “advance its European aspirations.” The U.S. is also sending $ 5 million to Georgia to help economically vulnerable people living near Russian-controlled breakaway regions.
The aid follows Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will work to boost the military capacity of non-NATO countries near Russia, including Moldova and Georgia.
USA TODAY contributed to this report.