Europe

Ukraine rebels defiant over new law

Women pose for a picture with pro-Russian rebels during a parade in Luhanks, eastern Ukraine, September 14, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Reuters: Women pose for a picture with pro-Russian rebels during a parade in Luhanks, eastern Ukraine, September 14, 2014. Photo: Reuters

A senior Ukrainian rebel leader has told the BBC a new law granting self-rule to parts of the east will not sway the demand for independence.

Andrei Purgin said there were no plans to develop any political relationship – federal or otherwise – with Ukraine.

But he said there were “positives” in the move by MPs to grant self-rule and an amnesty to rebels.

He said it could be used as the basis for dialogue but rebels would not give up on a desire for “the Russian world”.

The new law, which affects Donetsk and Luhansk regions and is in line with a 5 September ceasefire, was condemned by some Ukrainian MPs as “capitulation”.

Purgin, the first vice prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, said that the MPs’ move was in effect “an invitation to the negotiation table”.

“The first positive thing is that we are no longer described as terrorists. Secondly, according to this law we have the right to foreign and political economic relationships.”

The rebels in the east have been battling Ukrainian troops since seizing a number of towns in April.

Purgin said Ukraine’s parliament only voted on laws for Ukraine, and “we have our own higher council which makes our own laws”.

He also accused Europe of quietly wanting “the ethnocide of Russian speakers in Ukraine”.

“There are thousands of dead who were fighting for the rights of Russian-speaking citizens. For the rights to be part of the Russian world. For the right to be Russians,” he said.

Purgin added: “Ukraine is the most rotten, poor, corrupt country of Europe. It’s the cesspool of Europe.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the new legislation giving the special status to parts of Donetsk and Luhansk for three-years would guarantee the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of Ukraine, while paving the way for decentralisation.

The amnesty does not cover the shooting down of the MH17 passenger plane in July.

Western leaders believe rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet with a Russian missile – a charge the rebels and the Kremlin deny.

The legislation means that pro-Russian separatists taken prisoner in the fighting should now be released.

Separatists holding government buildings are now supposed to leave them, hand over captured Ukrainian soldiers and other prisoners and surrender their weapons.

Rebels accused of other “grave” crimes will not be covered by the new amnesty either.

But some Ukrainian lawmakers described the self-rule law as a sell-off of Ukraine in what they see as a war against Russia.

At least 3,000 people have been killed in the conflict and more than 310,000 internally displaced in Ukraine, the UN says.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of backing the separatists with soldiers and heavy weapons. The Kremlin denies doing so.

FREE TRADE

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian and European parliaments also voted to ratify a major EU-Ukraine association agreement that aims to bring the ex-Soviet republic closer to the EU.

The agreement lies at the root of Ukraine’s crisis.

It was former President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the deal last November that triggered mass protests and his eventual fall from power.

The agreement would make Ukraine compliant with EU standards in the areas of human rights, security and arms control, and would remove trade barriers.

But negotiations with Russia last week led to the free-trade part of the agreement being postponed until 2016.

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