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Ukraine talks open without separatist presence

KIEV — Senior Ukrainian officials opened talks here Wednesday that they portrayed as an effort to end the country’s six-month-old political crisis, but their initial remarks suggested little compromise by the provisional Ukrainian government, casting doubt that pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine would pay any heed.

Among the first to speak was the acting prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, who reiterated a promise to fight graft and urged unity, but made no particular outreach to the besieged eastern regions where separatist leaders held ballot referendums Sunday that they said showed broad public support for seceding from Ukraine and perhaps joining Russia.


“To fight corruption and provide people with jobs is our main task,” Yatsenyuk said. “And that will unite our country.”

While some officials from the east attended the so-called round-table talks, the provisional government in Kiev had vowed not to negotiate with the leaders of the masked gunmen whom they refer to as “terrorists” and “killers.” As a result, there were no representatives of the separatist factions, who seem crucial to reaching an accord that might resolve the crisis.

Oleksandr Yefremov, a member of Parliament and former governor of the Luhansk region, one of the separatist strongholds in the east, said in opening remarks that he expected more of a presence from his region, and he complained that the talks had opened with sharp words by a leader of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Filaret, blaming Russia for the crisis.

“I am surprised that nobody is here from Luhansk,” Yefremov said, “and I also don’t understand why we start our dialogue with morality.” He added, “We have people who think differently, who have a different culture, and we have a responsibility to create a state that corresponds to the needs of our people.”

Sergei Taruta, the governor of Donetsk, another embattled eastern region, also attended the talks, which were held in Parliament. But the overwhelming number of officials seemed strongly aligned with the central government in Kiev. They included the former prime minister and now presidential candidate, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, as well as the ambassadors to Ukraine from the United States and the European Union.


The Kiev government has been working to develop a “decentralization” plan that would empower local officials by giving them additional budget authority. It is an effort to answer demands in the east, supported by Russia, for a new “federalization” program that would substantially weaken the central government in favor of stronger regional governors.

One official who does hold credibility in the east, the mayor of Donetsk, Alexander A. Lukyanchenko, urged officials at the talks to pay attention to the results of Sunday’s referendum. While he acknowledged the referendum may not be regarded as legitimate, he said it nonetheless demonstrated lack of faith in the Kiev government.