Today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave his first interview since the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash last Thursday, speaking live with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. In his interview, Poroshenko discussed the difficulties the country has had with the investigation. He specifically cites the refrigerated train, full of bodies, that cannot move because the rebel forces have surrounded it. While investigators are slowly, but surely getting further on to the crash site, it is still controlled by the rebels.
Poroshenko also made a very important distinction as to what this opposing militant group should be called. He is referring to the group which is controlling the crash site, likely behind the missile shooting, and in active battles with Ukraine's army in the Donetsk area. While media outlets, The Wire included, have been referring to the Donetsk People's Republic as a "separatist" and "pro-Russian separatist" group, Poroshenko explicitly called them a terrorist group and wants the world to officially recognize them as such. He was careful to make this distinction, stressing that this was a terrorist organization. He also noted that this group was "supported by Russia, trained by Russia, armed by Russia."
Poroshenko stressed that Ukraine, as a nation, was united by this threat, that is not just internal:
This is a danger for the whole world. Let’s not demonstrate that we are talking about some conflict inside Ukraine. Ukrainian nation now are united. We don’t have any conflict inside Ukrainian nation. And this is, again, the danger for the global security, and the global world should find out a right answer to these challenges.
When Poroshenko visited the Dutch embassy in Kiev earlier today, he also called for that group to be recognized as terrorists, "We [Ukraine] and the Netherlands will make every effort, in particular during the meeting tomorrow of the EU Foreign Affairs Council where Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin will speak, so that the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics be declared terrorist organizations and so that any cooperation or support the terrorists receive is recognized as such under international law."
As for the MH17 attack, Poroshenko continued to stress that this is terrorism, calling this a "terrorist attack," rather than an accident or a crash. Poroshenko compared the tragedy to several other acts of terrorism, "I don’t see any differences from their tragedy of 9/11, from the tragedy of Lockerbie, and from the tragedy of the Ukrainian sky... At this tragedy, we should demonstrate the same way of reaction."
Later in the interview, Poroshenko became visibly unsettled while discussing Russian claims that Ukraine was somehow responsible. Russian media is reporting that a Ukrainian warplane was flying near MH17 around the time of the crash, but Poroshenko assured the world that not only was Ukraine uninvolved, but all of their planes in that area were actually on the ground at the time of the crash.
When it comes to moving forward, Poroshenko did note that he had been in "constant contact" with Putin. However, negotiations had not resulted in any change. "We are in constant contact in the Normandy format. But the dialogue is quite active," he explained, "We are waiting now for the practical step." Poroshenko did declare a 40 kilometer area around the site a "demilitarized" zone, though as fighting erupted only 60 kilometers away today (and the rebels have not withdrawn), this may not last.
World leaders are considering sanctions, and while Poroshenko expressed interest in this, he also noted that right now was a time for a "peace plan," and that all options for de-escalation of the situation should be explored. "We should use all the methods which are in our hands to de-escalate the situation. If sanctions will help, we should use them," he said.
When it comes to peace, Ukrainian efforts for negotiation have been minimal with Russia, and non-existent with the Donetsk People's Republic. Poroshenko said he offered talks via video conference with the self-appointed leaders of the group, but they rejected it. "Right now, we are talking about de-escalation and peace in this zone…They have rejected the opportunity to have these [peace] talks."