Ukraine’s parliament has adopted legislation granting greater autonomy to the separatist regions in the east of the country, as well as amnesty for most of those involved in recent fighting with government forces.
The new laws, which were proposed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, are aimed at ending a five-month separatist rebellion, which to date has claimed an estimated 3,000 lives and paralyzed Ukraine politically and economically.
Under the legislation, rebel-held parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be granted a “special status,” giving them broader autonomy for a temporary three-year period. Additionally, the new laws envision aid to restore the regions’ damaged infrastructure and the provision of social and economic assistance to hard-hit areas.
A separate bill grants amnesty to “participants of events in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” an apparent reference to separatist fighters and to Ukrainian government troops and volunteer battalions.
Excluded from the amnesty would be those who committed “grave crimes” and those who were involved in the downing in July of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, said the laws would guarantee the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of Ukraine, while paving the way towards a decentralization of government, which had been among rebel demands.
Separatist leaders played down the significance of the move. Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that the legislation still needs to be signed by President Poroshenko and published before it becomes law. “Then we will translate it into Russian, study it and give our opinion,” he said.
Zakharchenko’s first deputy, Andrei Purgin, told RIA Novosti the legislation could serve “only as a reference point for future dialogue, not as a legislative act,” adding that laws governing the Donetsk People’s Republic are made by its own parliament, not the one in Kyiv.