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Ukrainian Parliament OKs Bill On Special Status For Rebel East


A woman walks out of her damaged house in the town of Debaltseve, northeast of Donetsk, on March 17.
A woman walks out of her damaged house in the town of Debaltseve, northeast of Donetsk, on March 17.

Ukrainian lawmakers have approved a draft law to grant special status to the rebel-held areas in the country’s east.

The Verkhovna Rada approved the bill on March 17.

It was part of a package of legislative proposals made by President Petro Poroshenko and that have been sharply criticized by both Russia and the pro-Russian separatists.

The Verkhovna Rada approved the bill on March 17, along with a series of other legislative proposals by President Petro Poroshenko Russia and the rebels have sharply criticized the proposals put before Ukrainian deputies.

The text of the bill outlines the boundaries of particular districts in the areas under pro-Russian separatist control that could be granted special status with limited self-rule.

That was a key part of the cease-fire deal reached in Minsk on February 12.

The bill says rebel-held areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be granted their special status after holding elections in accordance with Ukrainian law and under international observation.

Ukrainian government forces have been battling the separatists in the country’s east in a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people since April 2014.

Fighting has decreased since the cease-fire came into force on February 15, with both sides accusing each other of violations.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on March 16 that the proposals put before Ukrainian deputies included "additional terms never previously discussed."

The ministry said Poroshenko had "totally ignored" Minsk provisions calling for dialogue with the pro-Russian rebels on arrangements for local elections and the regions' future status.

Speaking in Moscow on March 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the bill on the special status was a "sharp departure" from the Minsk agreements because it tied special status to elections in which the rebel leaders would not take part.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Aleksei Karyakin, the so-called speaker of the People's Council of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, as saying, "All the questions which the Kyiv parliament considered today completely contradict the Minsk agreements."

He also accused Kyiv of planning "new bloodshed" in eastern Ukraine.

Denis Pushilin, a separatist leader in Donetsk region, described the bills on March 16 as “a crude violation” of the Minsk deal.

Ukrainian lawmakers also approved on March 17 an appeal by Poroshenko to the UN Security Council to support the dispatch of a peacekeeping force to the east, and a bill declaring the rebel-areas as “temporarily occupied territories.”

Andrei Purgin, the self-styled parliament speaker of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, told Interfax news agency on March 17, “We are categorically against introduction of peacekeepers, unless these are Russian.”

“There is no point in introducing peacekeepers and no reason for that either," he added.

The Verkhovna Rada also supported a bill on admitting units of foreign armed forces on Ukraine's territory to take part in military exercises.

The text says Ukraine plans this year to conduct three drills with the U.S. military and two with the Polish Army.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and Reuters
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