Rebels’ state proposal stuns allies
UKRAINE: A surprise proposal by rebels in eastern Ukraine to create a new state has caught their allies off guard and sparked protests from the government in Kiev and its supporters in Europe.
Pro-Russian separatists based in the city of Donetsk said yesterday they would unite their two self-proclaimed republics.
The move appeared to be a nonstarter, however, as the other rebel group denied agreeing to the proposal, and Russia cautioned about the implications of such a step for peace efforts in the region. Another Donetsk separatist leader later backtracked.
‘‘We believe the Ukrainian state as it was can’t be restored,’’ Alexander Zakharchenko, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, was quoted by Russia’s Interfax news service as saying.
The new state, Malorossiya, would have Donetsk as its capital and would court other regions of the country in a bid to replace Ukraine in its current form, Zakharchenko said
The conflict in Ukraine’s easternmost regions erupted after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and has cost more than 10,000 lives. A peace accord signed in Belarus’s capital, Minsk, the following year remains largely unfulfilled.
Malorossiya, or Little Russia, referred during czarist times to an area roughly covering modern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has in the past spoken of Novorossiya, or New Russia, a concept that referred to swathes of land once owned by the Russian empire.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko maintained yesterday that he would continue efforts to restore sovereignty over the rebelheld lands.
France’s Foreign Ministry urged Russia to declare the separatists’ plan a breach of the Minsk peace agreement. France has been mediating negotiations over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, along with Germany. The United States also appointed its own envoy this month to accelerate progress towards a settlement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the proposal, instead reiterating Russia’s backing for the Minsk peace deal.
The announcement was the personal initiative of Zakharchenko, and the authorities in Moscow found out about it from the media, Peskov said.
Russia’s representative to the peace process, Boris Gryzlov, said the idea did not comply with the Minsk pact. ’’I interpret this only as an invitation to discussions; the declaration carries no legal consequences.’’
The proposal ‘‘isn’t a real political subject’’, Gryzlov said.