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Ukraine’s New President Poroshenko Says Peace Is ‘Main Priority’

Ukraine's new president-elect wasted no time Monday immediately focusing on the top issues at hand — promising to negotiate an end to a pro-Russia insurgency in the east and saying he was willing to begin talks with Moscow.

Russia quickly welcomed the offer from 48-year-old chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko, raising hopes that his election will indeed ease the protracted crisis that has fueled tensions unseen since the end of the Cold War.

Poroshenko, known for his pragmatism, supports building strong ties with Europe but also has stressed the importance of mending relations with Moscow. Upon claiming victory in Sunday's vote, he said his first step as president would be to visit the Donbass eastern industrial region, where pro-Russia separatists have seized government buildings, declared independence and battled government troops in weeks of fighting.

"Peace in the country and peace in the east is my main priority," Poroshenko said Monday, signaling that he would bring to an end the Ukrainian army's much-criticized campaign to drive out the armed pro-Russia separatists.

"The anti-terrorist operation cannot and should not last two or three months," he said. "It should and will last hours."

The military operation has caused civilian deaths and destroyed property — angering many eastern residents — while still failing to crush the rebellion.

The president-elect also had harsh words for the pro-Russia gunmen, comparing them to Somalia pirates.

"Their goal is to turn Donbass into a Somalia where they would rule with the power of machine guns. l will never allow that to happen on the territory of Ukraine," Poroshenko said, adding that he hoped Russia would support his efforts to stabilize the east.

Ukraine’s Presidential Vote Showcases Country’s Divide 1:59

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia appreciated Poroshenko's statements about the importance of Ukraine's ties with Russia and his pledge to negotiate an end to fighting in the east.

"We are ready for dialogue with representatives of Kiev, with Petro Poroshenko," Lavrov said at a briefing, adding it was a chance that "cannot be wasted." He emphasized that Moscow saw no need for any involvement by the United States or the European Union in those talks.

With votes from 75 percent of the precincts counted Monday, Poroshenko was leading with about 54 percent in the field of 21 candidates. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was running a distant second with 13 percent. If those results hold, Poroshenko would avoid a runoff election next month with the second-place finisher.

Speaking to reporters, Poroshenko struck a tone of unity Monday, saying he had no "rivals or political opponents in the race" and all of the other main candidates have congratulated him on his win.

"More than ever, Ukraine now needs to be united," he said.

- The Associated Press