Ukraine rebels pro­claim new state

Krem­lin, sep­a­rate pro-Russia fac­tion down­play dec­la­ra­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - NATALIYA VASILYEVA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Yuras Kar­manau of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

MOSCOW — Sep­a­ratists in east­ern Ukraine on Tues­day pro­claimed a new state that as­pires to in­clude not only the ar­eas they con­trol but also the rest of the coun­try. But Russia, their chief backer, sought to down­play the an­nounce­ment, say­ing it was merely part of pub­lic discussion.

The an­nounce­ment from the rebel strong­hold of Donetsk casts fur­ther doubt on the 2015 cease-fire deal that was sup­posed to stop fight­ing in Ukraine’s in­dus­trial heart­land and bring those ar­eas back into Kiev’s fold while granting them wide au­ton­omy. Some rebels said they have no in­ten­tion of join­ing the new state.

More than 10,000 peo­ple have died in fight­ing since Russia- backed rebels took con­trol of parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk re­gions in April 2014 af­ter Russia an­nexed Ukraine’s Crimean Penin­sula. The rebels orig­i­nally sought to join Russia, but the Krem­lin stopped short of an­nex­ing the area or pub­li­ciz­ing its mil­i­tary sup­port for the rebels.

Donetsk sep­a­ratist leader Alexan­der Zakharchenko said in com­ments broad­cast on Rus­sian tele­vi­sion that rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of other Ukrainian re­gions, would form a state called Malorossiya.

Most of the ar­eas that are cur­rently part of Ukraine were re­ferred to as Malorossiya, or Lit­tle Russia, when they were part of the pre-1917 Rus­sian Em­pire.

Zakharchenko said they are draw­ing up a con­sti­tu­tion that would be put to a pop­u­lar vote.

“We be­lieve that the Ukrainian state as it was can­not be re­stored,” Zakharchenko said in re­marks car­ried by the Tass news agency. “We, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the re­gions of the for­mer Ukraine, ex­clud­ing Crimea, pro­claim the cre­ation of a new state which is a suc­ces­sor to Ukraine.”

Al­though sep­a­ratists in the east have some sym­pa­thiz­ers in other Ukrainian re­gions, they have not at­tempted to cap­ture ter­ri­tory, nor do they have any po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

France, Ger­many, Ukraine and Russia worked out an agree­ment in the Be­laru­sian cap­i­tal, Minsk, in 2015 that laid out a road map for end­ing the con­flict be­tween gov­ern­ment troops and sep­a­ratists. Un­der the deal, the rebels would re­turn con­trol of the ter­ri­to­ries they had cap­tured to Kiev while Kiev would al­low a lo­cal elec­tion and grant au­ton­omy to the re­gion.

While the deal helped to re­duce the in­ten­sity of fight­ing, none of the po­lit­i­cal com­po­nents has been im­ple­mented.

Break­ing sev­eral hours of si­lence that passed af­ter the sep­a­ratists’ an­nounce­ment Tues­day, Boris Gry­zlov, Russia’s en­voy me­di­at­ing the peace talks in Minsk, dis­missed the idea as pub­lic discussion.

“This ini­tia­tive does not fit with the Minsk process,” Gry­zlov told Rus­sian news agen­cies. “I see it merely as an in­vi­ta­tion for discussion. This an­nounce­ment does not … en­tail any le­gal con­se­quences.”

Asked about the rebels’ an­nounce­ment, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, told re­porters Tues­day evening that the Krem­lin had no com­ment.

While the sep­a­ratists are be­lieved to be guided by the Krem­lin, they have made state­ments in the past that clearly caught Moscow of­f­guard.

Yev­gen Marchuk, Ukraine’s en­voy at the talks, said on the 112 tele­vi­sion chan­nel that the an­nounce­ment, made a day be­fore the next round of talks in Minsk, “could block the ne­go­ti­a­tions en­tirely.”

In Luhansk, rebel lead­ers de­nied that they were part of the deal. Luhansk In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, a lo­cal news web­site, quoted rebel rep­re­sen­ta­tive Vladimir Degt­yarenko as say­ing they had not been in­formed of the plans and have “great doubts about the ex­pe­di­ency of such a step.”

Through­out the con­flict, the rebel- con­trolled ar­eas have been ruled by self-pro­claimed au­thor­i­ties in Donetsk and Luhansk who call them­selves the Donetsk Peo­ple’s Repub­lic and the Luhansk Peo­ple’s Repub­lic. Sep­a­ratist lead­ers in Luhansk, un­like their coun­ter­parts in Donetsk, have tended to stay away from di­rectly ex­press­ing in­ten­tions to join Russia.

Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko on Tues­day ac­cused Russia of di­rect­ing the rebels’ hand in mak­ing the an­nounce­ment and seek­ing to split Ukraine in pieces.

“You should un­der­stand that Zakharchenko and [rebel leader Igor] Plot­nit­sky are not po­lit­i­cal ac­tors,” he said, dis­miss­ing them as “pup­pets” whose only job is to voice “the mes­sages they re­ceive from Russia.”

Poroshenko said Ukraine is com­mit­ted to the peace ac­cords and pledged to re­store con­trol over east­ern Ukraine and Crimea.

Kiev-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Volodymyr Fe­senko spec­u­lated that the Krem­lin had in­sti­gated the an­nounce­ment, per­haps try­ing to scare the West with the pos­si­bil­ity of Ukraine’s breakup.

“The Krem­lin is no longer try­ing to push this ma­lig­nant tu­mor back into the body of Ukraine,” Fe­senko said, adding that it is too early to pre­dict the fall­out of Tues­day’s an­nounce­ment be­cause Zakharchenko is known for mak­ing out­landish claims.

The As­so­ci­ated Press has doc­u­mented how Moscow has been prop­ping up the sep­a­ratists in Ukraine with funds, weapons and re­cruits. The Krem­lin has firmly de­nied send­ing Rus­sian troops to fight.


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