Ukraine passes bill to get occupied regions back from Russia

January 18, 2018
Protesters with a Ukrainian national flag burn tires while clashing with police during a rally outside the Supreme Rada in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. At least one policeman has been injured and several protesters have been detained during scuffles outside the Ukrainian parliament to protest a new law governing the areas in the country's east under separatist control. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday passed a bill that aims to reintegrate the eastern territories currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists, and goes as far as to declare support for taking them back by military force if necessary.

The bill describes the areas in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as “temporarily occupied” by “aggressor country” Russia. President Petro Poroshenko welcomed the new bill, saying it would help restore control of the east by “political and diplomatic means.”

Russia warned, however, that the deal effectively kills the peace accords that Ukraine is party to and that were supposed to resolve the deadly conflict.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine, which erupted weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. The 2015 Minsk peace deal helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but clashes have continued and attempts at a political settlement have stalled.

The new bill, passed by the Supreme Rada after days of raucous debate, contains no reference to the peace deal brokered by Russia, France and Germany that obliged Ukraine to offer a broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty to the rebels. Most Ukrainian political parties rejected that idea as a betrayal of national interests.

“We can’t embed diplomatic and political agreements that are prone to change into the Ukrainian legislation,” Ivan Vinnyk, a member of Poroshenko’s faction in parliament, said on Thursday while explaining why the Minsk deal wasn’t mentioned.

In a terse statement issued after the vote, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the bill is nothing “but a preparation for a new war.” The foreign ministry said the bill runs against Kiev’s commitments under the Minsk accords and further alienates Ukrainians living in separatist-held areas.

“Sadly, we are witnessing the making of a situation which is fraught with a dangerous escalation in Ukraine and (carrying) unpredictable consequences for global peace and security.”

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament’s upper house, said the new bill effectively spikes the Minsk peace pact, the implementation of which the U.S. and the European Union have said was a condition for lifting sanctions against Russia.

“Kiev has gone from sabotaging the Minsk agreements to burying them,” he said.

The bill backs a ban on trade as well as a transport blockade of the east that Ukraine introduced last year. Of all the documents issued by separatist authorities, Ukraine would only recognize birth and death certificates.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the chief rebel leader in the Donetsk region, also criticized the new bill as a flagrant violation of the Minsk agreement signed by Ukraine and the rebels, saying it would encourage hawkish elements in Ukraine and fuel hostilities.

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta research center, an independent Kiev-based think-tank, said the main purpose of the bill is to defend Ukraine’s interests in international courts.

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