Ukraine recognises war as ‘temporary Russian occupation’

Protestors hold flags during their rally in front of Parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 January 2018. Ukrainian lawmakers are about to vote on a controversial bill on the reintegration of the Donbass and on recognizing Russia as the aggressor respectively during the parliament's session on 16 January. [Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA/EFE]

Ukraine’s parliament yesterday (18 January) formally recognised its eastern war as a “temporary Russian occupation” in a vote that an outraged Moscow said was preparation for a new wave of the conflict.

The law defining the ongoing violence between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed insurgents came after nearly four years of fighting that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

The clashes broke out after street protests in Kyiv toppled a Kremlin-backed leadership and sent Moscow’s relations with the West to a post-Cold War low, particularly after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

It has turned into a low-intensity conflict in which no territory changes hands while the sides trade rounds of shelling and sniper fire.

Ukraine and its Western allies have long accused Russia of orchestrating the bloodshed in reprisal for Kyiv’s decision to pull out of its historic orbit and forge a closer alliance with the European Union.

The legislation, submitted to Parliament by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, also accuses Russia of “aggression” — a charge the Kremlin denies despite overwhelming evidence of its soldiers and weapons crossing the border into the war zone.

It also hands over control of the eastern campaign to the army from the security service.

The end of Minsk process?

“We will continue to lay the groundwork for re-integrating the occupied Ukrainian territories through political and diplomatic means,” Poroshenko tweeted after the 280-36 vote.

The seemingly symbolic change in the war’s legal status in Ukraine came less than a month after the United States green-lighted its first delivery of anti-tank missiles to Kyiv.

Chizhov: Sending arms to Ukraine is ‘the worst possible idea’

The conflict in eastern Ukraine can only be resolved by political means. Arming Ukraine is the worst idea under present circumstances, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, told EURACTIV, in an exclusive interview.

The powerful weapons are not expected in Ukraine for some months but have already seen Russia accuse Washington of inflaming the situation.

The Russian foreign ministry said Poroshenko was receiving “unlimited, close to dictatorial powers to suppress dissent and discontent.”

“You cannot call this anything but preparation for a new war,” the ministry said in a statement.

It added that Russia “could not fail to note that this law’s adoption remarkably ‘coincided’ with the announcement in Washington on the United States’ readiness to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine.”

A senior rebel leader in eastern Ukraine said Kyiv was violating the spirit of a tattered 2015 peace deal signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

“Unfortunately, this completely breaks the Minsk Agreements, contradicting them,” separatist chief Alexander Zakharchenko told reporters in the rebel stronghold Donetsk.

The 2015 deal was brokered with the help of Germany and France. There was no immediate response on Thursday from Berlin or Paris.

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