The election Sunday of Petro Poroshenko as president marks a new chapter for Ukraine and for East-West relations. The move should strengthen the central government in Kiev and pave the way for Ukraine and Russia to put relations on more stable footing. The United States and Europe should support the incoming government as it works to calm the biggest flash point in East-West ties since the end of the Cold War.
Poroshenko's victory in the first round of what international observers said was a fair and free election brings a new level of hope and stability to Ukraine after months of political turmoil and secessionist fighting. The pro-European billionaire and former government minister is a savvy, pragmatic veteran of Ukraine politics whose business interests in Russia should help reassure Moscow. While he ran on largely domestic promises to improve the economy and fight corruption, Poroshenko also vowed to push Ukraine toward a closer relationship with Europe and to reassert authority over its territory. These are the same direct challenges to Russia that sparked a crisis with Ukraine only months ago.
Poroshenko, though, started on the right note Monday by declaring his intention to calm tensions in the restive east and to work on repairing relations with Moscow. Russia welcomed the offer, and its expression of urgency is a hopeful sign that talks between the two sides will lead to a continued decrease in tension. Poroshenko also said the central government needs to act with resolve and speed to end the pro-Russia insurgency in the east. The president-elect faces a balancing act in enforcing order while dealing with secessionist fervor and Russian interference. But at least Ukraine has settled politically for the near term, and both sides have dialed back the rhetoric.
The environment is much improved from the raw climate in the spring, when Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president and Moscow annexed Crimea. Still, these are uncertain times, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent conflicting signals about his end game in Ukraine. While Putin has tamped down Russia's overt ambitions in the past few weeks, the Russian leader has strained relations with the West by manufacturing the standoff with Ukraine.
The United States and Europe should remain clear in opposing any further Russian land grab, and they should be ready to further tighten sanctions on Moscow if it persists in interfering with Ukraine's internal affairs. The West also needs to support Ukraine as the new government takes office, and help Poroshenko achieve his goal of integrating Ukraine with European political and economic institutions. Sunday's election provides some hope that this crisis will not spiral out of control, and that's real progress from only months ago.