Rebel areas will be given "special status" for at least three years
As Ukrainians celebrated the passage of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union on Tuesday, the country’s parliament approved legislation giving greater political autonomy to pro-Moscow regions in the country’s east.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed the move would protect the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of Ukraine following the signing of a tenuous cease-fire earlier this month that has largely quelled most, but not all, of the fighting in the country.
In accordance with the new law, rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk will receive “special status” for at least a three-year period, granting wider political autonomy from Kiev.
Also on Tuesday, the legislature pushed through a bill offering sweeping amnesty to rebels in the Donbass region; however, the legislation exempts individuals who may have participated grave crimes, such as the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, according to Voice of America.
Pro-Moscow separatists, who have been fighting a five-month insurgency against Kiev that has killed at least 3,000 people, remained wary of the resolutions.
“We will translate [the autonomy bill] into Russian, study it and give our opinion,” Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told pro-Kremlin news outlet RIA Novosti.
Zakharchenko’s deputy voiced even harsher skepticism.
“This is nonsense when the [parliament] of Ukraine passes bills not for Ukraine, but for Donbass,” said Andrei Purgin. “We have our own parliament for this purpose.”
Meanwhile in Washington, officials at the Pentagon said large numbers of Russian troops had begun to move back across the border, but remain poised to keep pressure firmly on Kiev.
“Those forces are close enough to be quickly brought back to bear if required,” General Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command, told reporters in Washington.