Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Violence in Kiev, Ukraine Tries to Find a 'Decentralized' Peace

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Violence in Kiev, Ukraine Tries to Find a 'Decentralized' Peace

Article excerpt

In what was the worst violence to hit Kiev since last year's Maidan Revolution, fighting between right-wing protesters and police left at least one officer dead and around 100 injured, four critically, outside Ukraine's parliament Monday.

But the more lasting confrontation may prove to be inside the parliament.

Even as protesters, some armed with grenades and firearms, attempted to break in to the building, legislators passed a set of constitutional reforms that would grant "special status" to rebel republics in eastern Ukraine. The bill's passage marked a first step in Kiev's compliance with the Minsk-II agreement, sponsored by both the European Union and Moscow.

But protesters, led by the right-wing Svoboda and Radical parties, say the package of "decentralization" reforms, which still require another vote at the end of the year for final passage, are a surrender to the Russia-backed rebels in Ukraine's east. The reforms' supporters counter that they are necessary to move ahead on Minsk's tenuous road map for peace and reintegration.

The basic reform, in the works for more than a year, aims to address many of the causes of last year's revolution by streamlining Ukraine's over-centralized government to delegate appropriate powers to regions and local communities. Polls show this plan, based on Poland's model of governance, enjoys widespread support around the country.

But opponents of the bill, which passed its first reading Monday with support from 265 lawmakers, are incensed by provisions that would grant temporary autonomy to the rebel republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Many fear that step will eventually harden into permanent independence. The bill will need a constitutional majority of 300 votes to pass in its second and final reading slated for December.

"The storm in society is mostly over the issue of special status for [the rebel zones]. This bill is like a candy that's fine - except for a couple of noxious chemicals that it's laced with," says Sergei Gaiday, an independent political expert in Kiev, and opponent of the bill.

"The president claims there's not really any special status, but in fact there is. If they're going to change the Constitution to do this, why not grant special status to all Ukrainian regions? Why is Donbass so special? The question many people are asking is: Does this mean we have lost the war?"

Decentralization vs. federalizationUnder the Minsk agreement, Ukraine is required to pass a set of constitutional changes that grant greater autonomy to its regions, allow the rebel republics to hold separate elections on the territory they control, end the year- old economic blockade of the rebel territories, and begin talks aimed at reintegration. The rebels, while retaining special powers that include the right to form their own militia and appoint administrators, would return to Ukrainian rule and hand back the Russian-Ukrainian border to Kiev's control. …

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