KIEV (AFP) – Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Wednesday condemned Ukraine for ratifying two bills on greater autonomy for the separatist east, saying they violated a peace deal and threatened a shaky month-long truce.
The latest wrangling over the east Ukraine peace plan came as Moscow celebrated the one-year anniversary of the annexation of Ukraine s Crimea peninsula, a key moment in the crisis that shattered ties with Kiev and the West.
President Petro Poroshenko late Wednesday signed into law two bills giving the rebel-held east more self-rule, a key part of a February peace deal aimed at ending over months of fighting in which more than 6,000 people have died.
But Russia s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the move “in essence rewrites the agreements or, more simply put, grossly violates them”.
In a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel late Wednesday, Poroshenko told her that “Ukraine remains faithful to its commitment” to peace and that the new legislation was in line with that commitment.
One of the bills lists the areas to be given “special status” autonomy.
But at the centre of Moscow s objections is a requirement under the other bill that before winning autonomy, the separatists must hold local elections under Ukraine law and international monitoring, as well as hand in weapons and disband armed groups.
Lavrov said this made the “liberation of the territories that they say are occupied” a prerequisite of the law.
“Kiev is looking to replace practically all elected officials with someone else,” he said in reference to the self-proclaimed leaders of the rebel-held areas.
“Only when these territories are headed by people suitable for Kiev will the law come into force.”
The February 12 peace deal signed in Minsk by both sides in the conflict said legislation defining the special status areas must be adopted after a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy arms from the frontline.
The holding of local elections, to be observed by the OSCE, would be “discussed” by Kiev with the rebels, the deal said.
– Shameful decisions , say rebels
Leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people s republics said the decisions by Kiev undermine the agreements in Minsk and showed that Ukraine “does not want peace.”
“(Kiev) wants to destroy Donbas with violence and an economic blockade,” said the statement by Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko and his Lugansk counterpart Igor Plotnitsky.
“Compromises with Kiev are impossible until yesterday s shameful decisions by Poroshenko and Verkhovna Rada (parliament) are overturned.”
Moving to counter criticism, the Ukraine foreign ministry said the adoption of the bills would allow free and fair elections that gave “legitimacy to the newly elected authorities who can contribute to constitutional reforms in Ukraine.”
The dispute threatens to derail the painstakingly-negotiated peace plan hammered out by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France last month, just as fighting has subsided.
The bills build on a first set of laws dating from September that gave “special status” to parts of Donetsk and Lugansk — including greater autonomy, priority to the Russian language, possible cooperation with Russia, and de facto amnesty for those who took part in the insurgency.
On the ground, sporadic violence continued, leaving a Ukrainian soldier dead, security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in Kiev.
Lysenko said snipers and rebel armour continue to “provoke” Ukrainian positions, with most attacks occurring near Donetsk airport, the southeastern city of Mariupol and a road in the Lugansk region.