Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko today (1 September) called yesterday’s attack by extremist forces on Ukraine’s parliament, in which a police officer was killed and several people were seriously wounded, “a stab in the back”.
Poroshenko addressed the nation in the aftermath of the worst unrest in the capital since a popular uprising ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych early last year, unleashing a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s industrial east.
The violence flared shortly after MPs backed the first reading of constitutional reforms that critics, including the extremist parties Right Sector and Svoboda have branded “un-Ukrainian” for giving the Moscow-backed insurgents greater powers in the east.
A total of 265 lawmakers voted in favour of the legislation at a stormy session, which saw some MPs try to disrupt the vote, which they condemned as “pro-Vladimir Putin.” Some shouted “Shame”.
The Ukrainian parliament, or Verhovna Rada, consists of 450 MPs. Those who have voted against are 72, according to the parliament’s website. Almost all MPs from Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkyvschina party, including herself, voted against.
The reforms were agreed as part of the Minsk agreement brokered last February by Germany and France that called for Kyiv to implement decentralisation by year’s end.
Outside parliament, baton-wielding riot police clashed with the protesters. A loud blast was heard and clouds of black smoke billowed into the air as demonstrators threw what security forces said were grenades.
A member of Ukraine’s National Guard was killed and scores of people were injured.
The Ukrainian government blasted ultra-nationalists for the bloodshed, as the European Union, Germany and Russia voiced their concern.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk pointed the finger at ultra-nationalists for the violence, which left 125 injured, six seriously, according to the interior ministry.
“At a time when Russia and its bandits are seeking to destroy the country but are unable to do this on the front line, the so-called pro-Ukrainian political forces are trying to open a second front inside the country,” Yatsenyuk said in a nationwide address.
President Petro Poroshenko branded the violence a “stab in the back” and said the perpetrators deserved “severe” punishment.
“It was an anti-Ukrainian action for which all organizers, all representatives of political forces without any exception must carry full responsibility,” Poroshenko said, adding that he would personally control the investigation and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
He also made it plain that although the nationalists pretend to serve Ukraine, in fact their actions profit Moscow.
“Thanks to the diplomatic efforts last week, including my direct involvement during the visit to Brussels, it has been three days in a row when not a single shot from the heavy artillery was fired on the frontline. It has been three days when not a single Ukrainian soldier was killed in action.
“On the other hand, someone kills defenders of the homeland here in Kyiv for the sake of advertising their party banners and several seats in a district council. Whose plans did the so-called patriots fulfill today? The answer is obvious”, Poroshenko said.
During his visit to Brussels on 27 August, Poroshenko told Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that the decentralisation bill will pass at first reading on 31 August.
Poroshenko also blasted the MPs who criticised the bill and voted against it.
“It is very sad that some members of the parliamentary coalition attacked the president and the supreme commander-in-chief of their own country instead of directing their burgeoning energy to counter the external enemy.
“They have also launched a campaign against our closest allies – the United States, Germany, France and the European Union. I do not claim they are agents of Moscow. Some decided not to take a responsible stand, but instead took a pose that is cynical and dangerous for the country. Some acted not as statesmen, but egotistic politicians that do not see ahead of the local elections on 25 October,” Poroshenko said.
The bill now goes on to the next stage of scrutiny in parliament, and will have to garner 300 votes from the 450-member Rada to proceed, as it entails amendments to Ukraine’s constitution. This is expected to happen by the end of the year, and in any case after the local elections on 25 October.
The elections will also be held in the rebel-held territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk district and to be monitored by the OSCE.
“Today’s vote is not final, but it will provide a huge room for manoeuvre for the Ukrainian diplomacy. The final decision by the end of 2015 will need 300 votes. My fellow countrymen, I assure you this will depend on the developments in eastern Ukraine and whether Russia adheres to the Minsk agreements in the next months,” Poroshenko said.
The Minsk agreement foresees that the new constitution, providing for decentralisation, enters into force by the end of 2015. The main goal of the peace agreement – the reinstatement of the control of Ukraine over its border with Russia – should begin one day after the local elections and end after the decentralisation is enacted.
It is assumed that if Russia delivers on the Minsk agreement, EU sanctions would be lifted by the end of the yer and only the sanctions concerning the illegally annexed territory of Crimea would continue to apply.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini welcomed yesterday’s vote in the Ukrainian parliament, but regretted the violence.
“The vote today in the Verkhovna Rada on the constitutional amendments related to decentralisation is an important step that paves the way towards a substantial devolution of powers from the central level to regions and communities, increasing in parallel the accountability of territorial self-governments to their constituencies. The amendments will also facilitate the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
“The EU looks forward to adoption of these amendments in final reading later this year, as well as to continued work on the judiciary-related constitutional amendments, taking into account the Venice Commission's recommendations.
“This process shouldn't be jeopardised by violence; today's events are very worrying. We offer our condolences to the family of the deceased law enforcement officer and our deepest sympathy to those injured in the explosion during the demonstration in front of the Verkhovna Rada.
“I am sure that Ukraine will stay firmly on its way to further reforms, both institutional and economic, as well as comprehensive reform of police and the law enforcement sector to ensure public order and safety across the country’, Mogherini’s statement ends.
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine gave their support to a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, following 17-hour long negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk on 12 February.
The four leaders committed to respecting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.
Western leaders are closely observing the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
On 2 March, European leaders said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.
Ukraine has asked the EU to dispatch an EU-led Security and Defence (CSDP) mission to Donbas.