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Russia Calls Ukrainian Constitutional Changes Inadequate

Russia has rejected proposed changes in Ukraine's constitution as not going far enough to fulfill Ukraine's obligations under the Minsk peace accord.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in a two-hour telephone meeting July 17 with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the leaders of France and Germany, said the changes don't meet the terms of the agreement because they were made without consulting with the Russian-backed rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine who are seeking greater autonomy.

Putin repeated his call for Poroshenko to negotiate directly with the heads of the two self-declared republics of Lugansk and Donetsk -- something the Ukrainian leader has refused to do.

Russia's Foreign Ministry declared "the attempt to present the constitutional amendments... as some kind of fulfillment by Kyiv of its Minsk obligations...should not fool anybody."

Poroshenko insisted at the meeting that Ukraine is abiding by the Minsk agreements, and accused Russia and the separatists of violating the ceasefire and other provisions of the accord.

The exchange came a day after Ukraine's parliament took the first step toward granting what AFP described as temporary self-rule to pro-Russian rebels under a constitutional change sent to Ukraine's Constitutional Court for review.

The changes would grant Ukraine's parliament authority to create or recognize new regions within the country which would have limited powers to govern themselves, primarily on financial and local matters.

The decentralization would not take away any of the central government's powers in areas such as defense, foreign policy, national security, the rule of law, and respect for civil liberties, according to Ukraine Today.

While Russia maintained the changes are not adequate, the United States and France endorsed them as a good "starting point" for carrying out the Minsk agreement.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in a phone call with Poroshenko welcomed the parliament's decision to "start constitutional reform" and take steps toward the decentralization of power and organizing of local elections, the Ukrainian president's office said.

French President Francois Hollande praised the constitutional proposals as a "positive first step" that should lead to the staging of local elections in rebel-run regions later this year, Hollande's office said.

"Local elections held under Ukrainian law and with respect for the corresponding commitments will be an important milestone," it said.

Putin in the meeting also urged Ukraine to stop effectively blockading the separatists regions of east Ukraine, contending that a "humanitarian crisis" was developing there.

The four leaders, sometimes referred to as the Normandy group, agreed to talk again next week.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, TASS, and Ukraine Today
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