After ten days of ceasefire, the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada) ratified a very significant new bill, introduced by President Poroshenko, that
- guarantees a "special status" based on a degree of self-rule for the self-proclaimed separatist territories, the Donetsk and Luhansk "People's Republics", for a period of 3 years
- allows for policing by local militias in specially designated areas of self-rule
- provides protection (yet to be defined) for Russian language
- permits local governments' autonomy in establishing and strengthening of "good neighbourly relations" with Russia
- promises Kiev funding to rebuild the regions (not specified amount and/or conditions)
- sets the date for local elections: December 7
A separate bill guarantees amnesty for "participants of events in the Donets and Lugansk regions", which implies three things of note:
- the bill does not reference separatists as terrorist - a major departure from past practices; and
- grants symmetric amnesty to both sides, including the volunteers fighting on the side of the Ukrainian forces; and
- provides no exceptions on the basis of citizenship - so all foreign fighters on both sides are, presumably, included in the amnesty.
It is worth noting that the amnesty does not cover those responsible for the shooting down of the MH17 as well as rebels accused of other "grave" crimes (per BBC report).
In my view - this is a major and very positive departure from the past policies for President Poroshenko which is made even more significant by the fact that Ukraine is going into acrimonious and challenging political campaign for the new parliamentary elections. It took some guts and political will for President Poroshenko to push this through. For example, Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and presidential candidate, labelled the bill a "complete surrender". As quoted in the Telegraph, she stated that "This decision legalises terrorism and the occupation of Ukraine".
It must be reiterated again, President Poroshenko deserves huge credit for taking this major reconciliatory step and the bill, in my opinion, provides a very good roadmap for securing longer-term dialogue between all parties on how to rebuild the region within the united Ukraine. It is my sincere hope that the separatists will fall fully behind this process.
Signals from the separatists are, however, quite mixed. Igor Plotnitsky who heads Luhansk separatists, as reported in the Telegraph, said the bill met several of his demands and that "a peaceful resolution has been given its first chance". In contrast, Andrei Purgin, the so-called deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, said that the bill only offers a possible starting point for discussions. This is unfortunate.