A bill on the reintegration of the occupied territories of Ukraine, which politicians have been discussing for over a month, remained a cat in the box for a long time but many heads have already been busted over it. copies have already been broken around it. This week, scuffles surrounding this new legislation resumed with more vigor.
This whole story with the need to adopt a Donbas reintegration bill began with the statement by President Petro Poroshenko this June during his working trip to the east of the country. In particular, he said that he had instructed that the authorities draft a bill, which would provide for a number of measures for the return of the occupied territories. "On my instructions, a bill was drafted, which is titled "On the reintegration of the occupied territories of Donbas." It covers a wide range of measures and steps that we need to take to ensure reintegration and determine the legal regime," Poroshenko said.
In just a few days, legislators and experts of all stripes undertook to comment on the "norms" of the document, which, in fact, no one had seen. Presidential envoy to the Rada Iryna Lutsenko shed some light on the situation by stating that the bill was only being developed by a working group consisting of MPs, SBU (security service), Armed Forces, national police and emergency service officials. She also vowed that the results of their joint work would be seen "in a week or two", exactly by the end of the spring-summer parliamentary session in mid-July.
In turn, Verkhovna Rada Speaker Andriy Parubiy said he expected the bill to be submitted to Parliament. He emphasized that he himself was not a member of the working group but "this is teamwork and, as far as I know, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council and the president share the same position on this issue."
At the same time, the parliamentary coalition appeared to lack such united position. With the approach of a critical period for the adoption of the reintegration bill (on October 18, the law on the special order for local governance in the certain areas of Donbas expires, and therefore there is a need to vote for a new document regulating the operations of local authorities in the territories controlled by Ukraine in Donetsk and Luhansk regions) the People's Front and the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko found no accord on the need to include in the document the norms of the Minsk Agreements (in any shape).
In particular, the Popular Front proposed that the president lays down in a separate law the "special status" of Donbas and issues of granting amnesty, holding elections and implementing other norms of the Minsk agreements. Allegedly, the Administration officials agreed with this idea. However, leader of the Popular Front, former PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that "if on Wednesday [October 4] a single draft is submitted, we will once again get together and discuss how we should act."
On Wednesday, information was confirmed that there were two bills on reintegration submitted to Parliament. "As far as I understand, the official position confirms our information that there will be two separate documents. Such news has already been released by the presidential administration," said People's Deputy from the National Front Viktoriya Syumar.
A few hours later two presidential bills appeared on the Verkhovna Rada's website: No.7163 "On the specifics of the state policy to ensure state sovereignty in the temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions" (and its alternative version by a group of MPs No.7163-1), as well as No.7164 "On creating the necessary conditions for a peaceful settlement in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions". However, the wish list of the Popular Front has been taken into account in these drafts only partly.
In particular, with regard to the provisions of Minsk agreements, the document states that the state of Ukraine is not responsible for the unlawful actions of the Russian Federation as an aggressor state, its armed forces, other military formations, and the occupation administration in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions: “In the process of the implementation by the Ukrainian state authorities and their officials of political and diplomatic measures to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, the priority shall be ensured of the implementation of security provisions of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014, the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, 2014, as well as the "Set of Measures" of February 12, 2015, with the aim of creating the necessary conditions for a political settlement in accordance with the norms and principles of international law and legislation of Ukraine."
At the same time, Bill No.7164 says that the special order of local self-governance in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions shall be extended for another year after the new legislation comes into force.
In general, the phrase “Anti-Terrorist Operation” has disappeared in Bill No. 7163. The ongoing events in Donbas have received a clear name - "armed aggression of the Russian Federation" and "temporary occupation", while the gangs with which Ukraine is forced to sit at a negotiation table in Minsk are defined as the "Russian occupation administration". "The temporary occupation by the Russian Federation of territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions ... is illegitimate and creates no territorial rights for the Russian Federation," the bill says.
"Today such a law objectively corresponds to our actual ability to react more actively and adequately to the situation," political scientist Olesia Yakhno-Belkovska said.
She says that firstly, Ukraine has finally called the aggressor by its name, which is very important from the international legal perspective, "I mean the lawsuits that have already been submitted by Ukraine to the UN International Court of Justice". "Secondly, we are fixing, as far as I understand, the fact that we are not turning to military logic, we are not saying that we consider a military option to return these territories but at the same time, we reserve the right to self-defense, referring to the UN Charter. That is, we partially alter the authority [balance] and transfer more of such authority to the Armed Forces. Thirdly, we are not cutting these territories off completely, calling them ‘occupied’, as certain political forces suggested. After all, Georgia’s experience shows us that this is not the best option in terms of the future return of these territories. So we retain humanitarian steps that provide for contacts directly with the residents of the occupied territories, but not with militants," she noted.
"Yes, we don’t like much the mention of the Minsk agreements," says Professor of Political Science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, research director at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Oleksiy Haran. "But, from a practical perspective, I see nothing harmful if they are symbolically mentioned in the new law. This only strengthens our ability to maneuver, because we say: ‘Yes, we are ready to implement the Minsk agreements, but after all, it’s Russia’s turn to act.’ Such a diplomatic rhetoric, you know..."
According to a political scientist, director of the International Institute of Democracies Serhiy Taran, there is nothing wrong with mentioning the Minsk process in the draft law. "We need to lay down mechanisms that would allow, for example, not to discuss elections in the occupied territories until the Russian troops are withdrawn. In fact, now we only have it at the level of agreements, and we see that Ukraine has been resisting any attempts by Moscow to impose its scenario upon us, in particular, regarding the elections in the occupied territories," he said.
At the same time, in his opinion, the succession of steps to implement Minsk agreements should’ve been also laid down in the bill. Then it would be possible to claim before Ukraine’s international partners that: “we’re sorry but we have this law…"
Serhiy Taran is convinced that the bill’s priority idea should be the restoration of sovereignty in the occupied territories. "And it is a secondary thing, how it’s called - Minsk agreements or some other accords," he added.
It should be recalled that the earlier versions of the bill talked about the specifics of state policy for restoring sovereignty in Donbas, not about the specifics of state policy for securing sovereignty there, as it is laid down today.
According to the secretary of the parliamentary committee for national security and defense, MP Ivan Vinnyk (BPP), the thing is that the presidential bill on Donbas initially assumes the liberation of the occupied territories, and only then - reintegration. He explains that the goal of state policy is "ensuring state sovereignty," therefore the priority issue is the liberation of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the restoration of the constitutional order there. And the next step after liberation comes integration. "This is the main thing - we need to liberate [the areas] from the aggressor, restore the state system, hold local elections and then we will actually start building roads, restoring bridges and dealing with other civilian issues. But we first need to liberate [these areas]," Vinnyk said.
Olesia Yakhno-Belkovska shares this opinion: "I think it's too early to talk about restoration while the process of destruction is ongoing, hostilities continue, all these shellings… Here the specifics could be laid down but today Ukraine puts emphasis on the need for the actual process of de-occupation to begin and for the need to kick Russia out of there. That’s where the emphasis lays, and that’s why we need this law today. That’s so that we could indicate in international courts, now and in the future, who the aggressor is, and also demand compensation from this aggressor."
In other words, the issue of reintegration of the occupied territories, and damage assessment, as well as an actual solution to humanitarian issues, is being postponed.
Moreover, there lays a huge gap between the submission of bills and their actual adoption. That’s especially if there is a lack of a unified position on the drafts in the ranks of the flamboyant coalition in parliament.
Tatyana Urbanskaya, Iryna Shevchenko