Russia/Ukraine politics: Quick View - Ukraine adopts controversial law on re-integration of Donbas

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Russia, Ukraine


On January 18th the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) adopted a law on the status of the separatist-held Donbas region, where Ukraine is at war with Russian-backed rebels.


The Donbas region has been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. According to the UN, at least 10,303 people (including 2,523 civilians) have been killed since April 2014. The territory's legal status determines what the Ukrainian government owes its citizens living in the Donbas and how it can act in future negotiations on resolving the conflict.

Changes introduced by the law include: designating Russia as an occupying power, thus making Russia legally responsible for the separatist territories, including the population's energy and nutrition needs as well as human rights violations; ending the anti-terror operation-thus far the official status of the Ukrainian military operation in the Donbas; assigning oversight of all combat units to the Ukrainian armed forces, thereby legalising the military presence in the Donbas without declaring martial law; extending the military powers of Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, by giving him the right to use the military in the Donbas without parliamentary approval; and recognising only two documents issued by the Donbas rebel authorities-birth and death certificates.

Mr Poroshenko was able to build a broad parliamentary coalition behind the final version of the legislation. In supporting the law, members of parliament (MPs) bent to public pressure; violent protests demanded the bill's quick adoption as it was passed in the first reading in October 2017. The law has drawn criticism from human rights organisations, however, for extending the power of the president and the military beyond constitutional limits, as well as for renouncing responsibility for citizens in separatist-held territories.

Although the Donbas conflict is no longer officially an anti-terror operation, the law avoids referring to it as a war, which could have triggered a stark reaction from Russia. In addition, it lacks any references to the Minsk II agreement, the basic framework for settling the conflict. Ukrainian authorities continue to voice their commitment to the Minsk II agreement, but by officially renouncing responsibility for the Donbas, the Rada has undermined Ukraine's obligation under the deal to grant autonomy to the Donbas.

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