Ukrainian parliament extends law on special status for Donbas for another year

MPs voting for the extension of the Donbas special status law. Kyiv, 12 December 2019. Screenshot: Youtube/RadaTVchannel 

Peace to Ukraine, War in the Donbas

Today 12 December, the Ukrainian Parliament or Verkhovna Rada has amended Article 1 of the Law “On special order of local self-government in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts” to extend its effectiveness for another year until 31 December 2020. These areas, also known under the acronym ORDLO, are the areas outside government control occupied by Russia in the two easternmost provinces referred to as the historic region of the Donbas.

The bill was submitted two days ago by representatives of the ruling party Servant of the People, Davyd Arakhamia and Oleksandr Korniyenko. 320 MPs voted for the legislation, with a majority being 226 votes.

The law does not grant autonomy to the Russian occupation authorities, but ensures it in ORDLO in case Russia withdraws its troops from the Donbas.

The Donbas special status law

The bill on the special status for the occupied territories was first adopted for a period of three years back in September 2014 following the signing of the Minsk Protocol between Ukraine and Russia under the auspices of OSCE that supposedly intended to resolve the conflict in the Donbas.

The law stipulates that Ukraine will ensure de-facto autonomy for ORDLO after “all the conditions laid down in Article 10 of the Law have been fulfilled, in particular as regards the withdrawal of all illegal armed formations, their military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.”

As the law’s term of effectiveness was nearing its end in late 2017, the Parliament had to extend it by one year. Today’s pre-Christmas prolongation of the Donbas special status law is the third in a row, and by approving it once again the Verkhovna Rada shows Ukraine’s commitment to fulfilling the Minsk accords.

However, the temporary “special status” ensured by this law should become permanent which is a demand of the Package of Measures to Implement Minsk Agreements (Minsk-2), another set of accords signed by Ukrainian representatives in the Belarusian capital at the beginning of 2015 amid Russia’s large-scale offensive operations in the Donbas in the town of Debaltseve and Donetsk Airport.

Read also: Minsk-2 is the real problem for Ukraine, not “Steinmeier’s formula” | Infographics

“Donbas peace process” and Ukrainian legislation

On 9 December, leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany met in Paris for talks on the Donbas peace issues in the so-called Normandy Four format. Ukrainian president Zelensky told Ukrainian journalists after the meeting that he sees it optimal to extend the law on the peculiarities of local self-governance in ORDLO for one year and then to incorporate the so-called “Steinmeier formula” into the document.

As Ukraine earlier accepted the Steinmeier formula that proposes the concordance of actions to hold local elections in the Donbas, it sparked mass protests since many Ukrainians see the elections in the occupied territory without the withdrawal of the Russian troops and regained Ukrainian control of the state border as a step to capitulation to Russia.

The communiqué of the recent “Normandy Quartet” summit reads,

“They [the sides] consider it necessary to incorporate the “Steinmeier formula” into the Ukrainian legislation, in accordance with the version agreed upon within the N4 [Normandy Four] and the Trilateral Contact Group [TCG Ukraine-Russia-OSCE].”

Leaving alone the fact that foreign nations are pressing on Ukraine to make changes to its laws, the document states that the wording of the formula is yet to be agreed by Russia, France, Germany, and Ukraine within the Normandy format, and by Russia and Ukraine within TCG.

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And granting the permanent autonomy for ORDLO that would require amendment to the Ukrainian Constitution is among the topics for further decision at the Normandy Four talks and in the TCG,

“The sides express interest in agreeing within the Normandy format (N4) and the Trilateral Contact Group on all the legal aspects of the Special Order of Local Self-Government – special status – of Certain Areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions – as outlined in the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements from 2015 – in order to ensure its functioning on a permanent basis,” the Paris summit’s communiqué reads.

Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after the N4 summit, Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) opened proceedings “upon the statement on the possibility of high treason by Poroshenko when signing the Minsk agreements.”

The DBR will be rebooted under a new law, yet it is still headed by Roman Truba, who is reportedly influenced by Andriy Portnov, former deputy head of the runaway president Viktor Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration.

“The timing may well have been orchestrated by Andriy Portnov, the former aide to ex-President in hiding, Viktor Yanukovych, who has initiated this, as well as all previous investigations against Poroshenko since his ostentatiously public return to Ukraine on the eve of Zelensky’s inauguration,” Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group wrote.


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Edited by: Michael Garrood

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