Ukraine: Donbass Becomes Special Status Territory

The Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada at a closed meeting on Tuesday, September 16, adopted a presidential law on the introduction of a special order of government in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions for a period of three years, as well as on the holding of early local elections in these regions by the end of this year. The initiative granting special status was approved by 277 lawmakers, while the accompanying amnesty law was approved by 287 parliament members. The bills will come into force after they have been signed by the President and published by official media. The United States welcomed the decision. Russophobes, Neo-Nazi and pro-Western MPs got united in opposition to the motion.

The special status law was stipulated by the Minsk agreements reached in early September in the Belarusian capital on the basis of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seven-point plan proposed two days before. Over the three years, Poroshenko said, the Ukrainian authorities “will be able to implement issues of deep decentralization, which should also be a subject for making relevant amendments to the Constitution.” Elections to local self-rule bodies in Donbass are set for December 7.

The special status law is to endure for three years and applies only to the territory where the anti-terrorist (punitive) operation takes place. Itgives Ukrainian cabinet ministers and other central executive bodies the power to sign agreements with local administrative bodies on social, economic, cultural and other issues. Under the law, Russian and other languages have equal status with Ukrainian, and the state is obliged to guarantee the right to use Russian or any other language publicly or privately.

According to the document’s provisions, the law will come into effect on the specified territories under the rule of local governments. Ukraine will also subsidize the development of the territories at a special budget line. Prosecutors and judges will be assigned with consent of local self-rule authorities to be also elected with local officials on the same date in December. The state also obliges to help these areas to cross-border cooperation with bordering regions of Russia. The local authorities will be allowed to create “local militia units” for keeping of public order, the law said.The second law gives an amnesty to rebels acting in Donetsk and Luhansk regions since Feb. 22, except those who have committed serious crimes. The law says the amnesty will be granted to people who “participated in armed units” and also those who “participated in self-proclaimed bodies of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts or counteracted to anti-terrorist operation.” The rebels will avoid criminal responsibility if they “released or are not keeping hostages,” and also gave out arms and explosives, and are not hampering the work of local governments. The decision of amnesty will be granted by court rulings, the law states.

Novorossia: “law of adjacent state”

The adoption of the laws evoked no emotions in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. People view it as a legislative act of adjacent state.

"The Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) will consider and might even adopt some of the provisions of the recently passed Ukrainian law on the special status of Donbass," according to DPR's First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Purgin.

It "may provide conditions for peaceful coexistence of the region with the rest of the country…" Political issues are outside the Ukraine’s competence. Donetsk and Luhansk do not agree with the Ukraine’ President Poroshenko’s decision to consider the today’s boundaries as borders to preserve status quo. They insist that the dividing lines between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics should coincide with the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. 

The Kiev’s real intentions are questioned. To be on the safe side the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics signed a protocol on forming Novorossia’s joint armed forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Ivan Korsun.

Lyashko; “Poroshenko bit off more than he could chew”

There was great agitation in Kiev, no matter the United States approved the two new laws.  The vote for granting special status was approved by 277 votes, the law of amnesty – 287. Somebody adroitly fiddled with the electronic screen. It showed only the overall numbers. There was no routine division into fractions and independent MPs. Andriy Shevchenko, an MP in the Batkivshchyna party led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said that he had too many reasons to cry foul. He said the law was voted breaching normal parliamentary procedures. “I have a nasty feeling over these laws,” Andriy Shevchenko, lawmaker of Batkivshchyna party, wrote on his Twitter claiming that process of voting was held with violation of procedure. Anatoliy Hrytsenko is an independent member of parliament, former Minister of Defence and the leader of Civil Position Party which has good chances at the next election. His wife Yulia Mozgovaya is an editor-in-chief of the pro-US newspaper Mirror of the Week. He used Twitter to express his discontent and anger. According to him, the board showing the results of vote was off at the moment when the two bills were voted so the lawmakers couldn’t see the voting process. “Things like that have never happened in (Verkhovna) Rada,” he said.

Later Andrey Shevchenko told journalists it was not a fair game. The chairman put the bills to vote without preliminary parliament’s consent in violation of procedures. “It means we simply saw the figure 277 on the screen, but there is no way to know who supported the laws, is it really so that the bills became laws with the approval by Rada? I am ashamed of this parliament.”

Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of Batkivshchyna and the former Prime Minister, was evidently annoyed calling the laws “humiliating and betraying”. The party fraction she leads voted against the law. Svoboda faction leader Oleh Tyahnybok said that Svoboda was the only faction that "did not give a single vote for the special regime." The fraction MPs held their cards over heads in protest.  "This is the full-scale concession of Ukraine's interests in Donbass … The decision legalizes terrorism and the occupation of Ukraine," said Yulia Tymoshenko. She never said how the decision could be reversed. "I consider it absolutely wrong to vote capitulation after all these losses. We need peace, and not a truce - but not at any price. We consider these draft laws to be a complete capitulation," said Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, before the session. He is dissatisfied with the provisions that envision the “militants” (as he said about the self-defense formations) to elect prosecutors and judges. He believes that the new law fails to protect the Ukrainian language and the rights of Ukrainians living on the “occupied territory.”  He is frustrated that the border lines are not clearly defined. Tyahnybok says the text mentions the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions without making precise the concrete territories and populated areas.

Oleg Lyashko, the leader of Radical Democratic Party, who was the third place finisher in the last presidential race,   happened to be the fiercest opponent of the new legislation.  He called the vote treason. According to him, the memory of those who gave lives for their motherland was desecrated. It was a shame, and the war became inevitable. Lyashko writes on his Facebook page that once Poroshenko does not understand it, he is a wrong man for the job.  He also said that there was no doubt the vote in the parliament was rigged. 

Poroshenko – staunch fighter

Coming under the storm of critical remarks Poroshenko is firm and calm, he looks like someone who knows how to take punches. Meeting journalists he said Ukraine has made a step to peace. The laws approved by the parliament frustrate the plans of those who wanted to shake the fragile armistice and drag Ukraine into war. He means those who opposed him at the election - the political three parties: Batkivschyna led by Yulia Timoshenko, Radical Party headed by Oleh Lyashko and Freedom with Oleh Tyahnybok at the helm. The Party of Regions and the Ukraine’s Communist Party are too weak and subject to internal strife. The Party of Regions did not take part in the recent parliamentary election. It wants to take part in the elections held in the two self-proclaimed republics. The Communists are contemplating the next steps.

On September 18 President Petro Poroshenko is to visit the United States of America. He will meet President Barack Obama, address the both houses of Congress and discuss the aid package to Ukraine at the Atlantic Council. All his steps taken now, including the cease-fire and the agreement to freeze the Donbass conflict for three years at the time the US starts a new war in the Middle East, are not impromptu decisions but rather well thought over actions coordinated with Washington.