Departing Poroshenko warns Ukraine of Russian threat to pro-western path

Comic and political novice Volodymyr Zelenskiy to become president on Monday

Volodymyr Zelensky: he says there will be no change in Kiev’s pro-western course or tough stance against Russian aggression. Photograph: Getty Images

Volodymyr Zelensky: he says there will be no change in Kiev’s pro-western course or tough stance against Russian aggression. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has urged his incoming successor, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to safeguard the nation’s pro-western course and beware an upsurge in Russian aggression as the erstwhile comedian prepares to take power on Monday.

Kiev will welcome dignitaries from around the world for the inauguration of Mr Zelenskiy (41), a political novice who vows to fight corruption, boost the economy and to seek an end to five years of war with Moscow-led militants in eastern Ukraine.

After suffering a heavy election defeat to Mr Zelenskiy last month, Mr Poroshenko defended his record on Sunday, and warned that Russia would try to capitalise on Ukraine’s transition of presidential power and its preparations for parliamentary elections later this year.

“The enemy is openly trying to use this period of political turbulence to wreck our achievements on the path of reforms and European integration. To sow strife, hostility and chaos in our society, to set the people and the authorities against each other...and destroy Ukrainian statehood,” said Mr Poroshenko.

The Kremlin has not congratulated Mr Zelenskiy on his victory, and recently started giving passports to residents of militant-held areas of Ukraine  – where fighting has killed 13,000 people and displaced 1.6 million – stoking fears that Moscow may assert the right to use its armed forces there to “protect Russian citizens”.

After warning during the election campaign that Mr Zelenskiy would be pushed around and outwitted by the Kremlin, Mr Poroshenko said at a commemoration of victims of Soviet repression that it was essential to “confirm the irreversibility of Ukraine’s European course”.

“On land where the trees grow on human blood there cannot even be any talk of political flirtation with the aggressor and successor to the regime which spilled that blood,” he said on Sunday.

Gunmen

Mr Poroshenko took power in 2014, after his predecessor Viktor Yanukovich fled to Russia following the deadly climax of the Maidan Revolution and the Kremlin seized Crimea and sent gunmen and weapons into eastern Ukraine.

Among his achievements Mr Poroshenko listed the strengthening of Ukraine’s armed forces, the forging of close ties with western powers, and the creation of a national Orthodox church that is independent from Moscow.

Yet the billionaire’s failure to sideline corrupt oligarchs and their political cronies or to institute the rule of law cost him the support of millions of Ukrainians, who now expect Mr Zelenskiy to meet those key demands of the Maidan protests.

The comedian and impresario says there will be no change in Kiev’s pro-western course or tough stance against Russian aggression, but he has pledged to dramatically intensify the pace of reform and fight against corruption.

He has sharply criticised deputies for scheduling the inauguration on a weekday despite the traffic chaos it will cause in Kiev, and for political manoeuvring last week that could stop him bringing forward parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Mr Zelenskiy hopes his new party will sweep out the old guard in elections, and with a smile he asked Ukrainians to forgive deputies for causing problems.

“We will, I promise, do the same for them,” he said.