Poroshenko: ‘Draft constitutional amendments do not foresee special status’ for Russian-occupied Donetsk, Luhansk

My fellow Ukrainians!

Today the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has approved constitutional amendments on decentralization in the first reading. This has finally happened after more than year-long discussions.I am consciously undertaking steps to share my powers in favor of local communities and reinforce them with redistribution of financial resources.

So that more money and more power for local communities corresponded with more responsibility and influence of local communities and citizens.

Decentralization fundamentally changes the political system of Ukraine. It paves a way to the European model of self-governance, and it is also part of my peace plan.

Today’s vote has been uneasy but a sound step toward peace.

Understandably, some people in Moscow are quite anxious because they did not get what they want.

The Internet and newspapers are full of headlines such as “The Kremlin did not like constitutional amendments”, “Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticizes Ukraine’s constitutional reform” and “Russia-backed militants are angry that Kyiv did not consult with them on constitutional changes.”

Just recall what circumstances we were under one year ago.

They wanted not only federalization, but a confederation where a dozen of Ukrainian regions would be connected to Russia more closely than to the rest of Ukrainian neighbors. Then they dreamt about their proxies taking key decisions in foreign policy, vetoing Ukraine’s integration in the European Union and NATO. But a meager line about the peculiarities of local self-governance is the only thing they got. Does anyone think that it was easy to achieve?

We should glorify Ukrainian soldiers and thank Ukrainian diplomats for this.What would happen if the Verkhovna Rada did not vote for constitutional amendments? The fate of a pro-Ukrainian international coalition would be significantly undermined. Potential extension of economic sanctions that hurt the aggressor would not be on the table.

The grim picture of having Ukraine struggling against the aggressor alone would become a real threat.

My fellow countrymen!

It is very sad that some members of the parliamentary coalition attacked the President and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of their own country instead of directing their burgeoning energy to counter the external enemy.

They have also launched a campaign against our closest allies – the United States, Germany, France and the European Union.I do not claim they are agents of Moscow. Some decided not to take a responsible stand, but instead took a pose that is cynical and dangerous for the country. Some acted not as statesmen, but egotistic politicians that do not see ahead of the local elections on Oct. 25.

How can you call events that unfolded near the Verkhovna Rada other than a stab in the back?!

It was an anti-Ukrainian action for which all organizers, all representatives of political forces without any exception must carry full responsibility.

I will personally control the fulfillment of this, as I had a meeting with all heads of law enforcement and gave clear orders of conducting a transparent investigation and bringing both the organizers and perpetrators to justice.

They have attempted to storm the Parliament. They have thrown a grenade. They have targeted a serviceman of the National Guard in his heart and killed him! They have wounded around 120 servicemen and police officers –many of whom took part in the Anti-Terrorist Operation, some of them are decorated with state awards.

Thanks to the diplomatic efforts last week, including my direct involvement during the visit to Brussels, it has been three days in a row when not a single shot from the heavy artillery was fired on the frontline. It has been three days when not a single Ukrainian soldier was killed in action. On the other hand, someone kills defenders of the homeland here in Kyiv for the sake of advertising their party banners and several seats in a district council.Whose plans did the so-called patriots fulfill today? The answer is obvious.

My fellow countrymen!

Today’s vote on constitutional issues of national importance has naturally united non-affiliated MPs but – and I am saying this with all responsibility – constitutional changes have to unite the parliament; it does not mean changes in the parliamentary coalition.

Do not trust the speculators on this subject.

Despite events in the Parliament today, the current coalition will continue to function, because it is crucial for the national interests of Ukraine! Other options are not considered at all. This is my solid position.

Today, Ukraine confirmed its reputation as a reliable partner and strengthened the image of the country that fulfills Minsk agreements in contrast to Russia.

If Moscow does not reconsider its position, individual sanctions against those involved in the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be extended this fall.

Similarly, sector sanctions will be extended in early January of the next year.

Today’s vote is not final, but it will provide a huge room for maneuver for the Ukrainian diplomacy.

The final decision by the end of 2015 will need 300 votes.

My fellow countrymen, I assure you this will depend on the developments in eastern Ukraine and whether Russia adheres to the Minsk agreements in the next months.

The draft constitutional amendments do not foresee special status for particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

This, in my view, is just a cliché that certain political parties employed as election strategy, an element of the dishonest information campaign against the Constitution and against the president.

Moreover, we are crossing out a clause that allows an illusory opportunity for special status in Article 92 of the Constitution of Ukraine.

This was done in order to eliminate any kind of legalistic ways to prevent the emergence of numerous fiefdoms. Speaking on the peculiarities of local self-governance in certain districts in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, it is defined by a particular law.

This law has been approved twice by the previous and the current Parliament. Its timeframe – three years, and one year passed already.

Most articles of this law are suspended.

They can be enforced only after the fair elections on these territories according to the Ukrainian law and the OSCE standards.

And only after the withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons from the territory of Ukraine, as well as the restoration of control over the entire Ukraine-Russia border.

Is anyone against this?

Therefore, these constitutional amendments mean not the loss of territories but the opposite. They provide us with a chance and opportunity to settle and return Ukraine’s sovereignty over the de facto occupied territories via political and diplomatic means.

We will definitely win through a combination of strengthening our defense capacities and political and diplomatic efforts.

Glory to Ukraine

From – http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/poroshenko-draft-constitutional-amendments-do-not-foresee-special-status-for-russian-occupied-donetsk-luhansk-396916.html

Mayhem inside, outside Rada as parliament passes decentralization bill

Mayhem broke out at Ukraine’s parliament on Aug. 31 – inside and outside – as lawmakers passed the first reading of a controversial bill on decentralizing the country’s system of government.

Inside the parliament, the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko attempted toderail voting by blocking the parliament tribune and sounding klaxons as lawmakers spoke for and against the bill.

Outside, protesters attacked police with sticks and snatched riot shieldsfrom officers, as massed ranks of police formed a heavy cordon around theparliament building.

Flags of the right-wing Svoboda (Freedom) Party and the ultranationalist Right Sector group waved.

One riot officer was reported killed when a protester threw a grenade at police.

Around 50 other policemen were wounded in the attack, Ukrainian media have reported.

The bill, which supporters say is designed to satisfy Ukraine’s commitments under the Minsk II peace agreement signed on Feb. 12, caused serious splits inUkraine’s governing coalition, but in the end it was passed in the firstreading by 265 votes – well clear of the 226 required for such a bill to pass.

“This is not a betrayal; it is decentralization and deoligarchization,” parliament head Volodymyr Groisman said after the bill was passed, denouncing criticism that the changes would actually concentrate power in the hands of the presidency and play to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests by potentially extending the scope of self-governance in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine.

The bill now goes on to the next stage of scrutiny in parliament, and will have to garner 300 votes from the 450-member Rada to proceed, as it entails amendments to Ukraine’s constitution.

The three smaller parties in the five faction governing coalition – the Radical Party, the Batkivshyna Party and the Samopomich Party, voted against the changes, and the bill was only passed with the help of former Party of Regions lawmakers from the Oppositional Bloc faction.

The Radical Party and Batkivshyna protested a key amendment which opened the way for extended self-governance in the occupied areas in eastern Ukraine.

Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko said the amendment was a part of “Putin’s plan for federalization of the nation aimed at destruction of Ukraine.”

“Building our country by handing over Donbas is an invitation to Putin to move forward and take more,” Batkivshyna leader Yulia Tymoshenko said. “Putin has no interest in Donbas – his aim is more war and destabilization. Both Minsk I and II were connected with major military defeats for Ukraine, so fulfilling Putin’s demands leads to war, not peace. We have to stop giving in and begin real negotiations.”

The constitutional amendment didn’t specify the actual nature of the special administration of the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, but merely allowed for the issue to be set out in a separate law. Critics said however that any talk about special administration in Donbas would translate into a de jure recognition of the Russian-separatist occupation.

The changes in the constitution are widely seen as allowing Ukraine to argue that it is fulfilling commitments for more local democracy in the occupied territories, a promise it made on signing the Minsk II agreements, and to state that it was now up to Russia to do its part – withdraw its troops and restore Ukrainian control of the border between the two countries.

Yury Boiko, the leader of the Oppositional Bloc, said the amendments “provide a chance for a peaceful solution of the conflict, and that is what the Ukrainian people expect of us.”

Taras Beresovets, owner of public relations company Berta Communications, said that with the bill passed, the EU would retain its sanctions against Russia, so the ball was now in Putin’s court.

In parliament Radical Party lawmakers briefly stopped chanting “Shame, shame” when 82-year-old former Soviet political prisoner and lawmaker of the Radical Party Yuriy-Bohdan Shukhevych addressed parliament and accused the Western powers of “giving up Ukraine just like Czechoslovakia was given up in 1939.” Shukhevych said that the separatists would be allowed to operate their own justice system including police and prosecution.

“Europe is forcing us to pass this (bill),” he said.

Defending the text of the bill about a special administration for parts of the Donbas, Groisman said that special measures would be necessary to normalize the situation in the region after a Russian withdrawal, so the bill was actually the opposite of justifying Russian-separatist control. Groisman also argued that the enhanced local democracy included in the constitutional bill could be instrumental in breaking the influence of oligarchs in the country.

“We now have a chance to end the serfdom of Ukrainians bowing to corrupt officials,” he said.

More control over regional issues was a key demand made by pro-Russian protesters in Donbas after the Euromaidan Revolution in central and western Ukraine in February 2014, and decentralization became a part of the Minsk II agreement under the pretext of the concerns of Donbas. But pro-presidential bloc parliamentary leader Yuriy Lutsenko said the changes also fulfilled the demands of Maidan protesters for more local government powers and democracy – and less power for corrupt officials.

Lutsenko said the decentralization push included in the constitutional reform would essentially cancel the Soviet model of government partly still in place in Ukraine 24 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, “where a party boss in Kyiv ruled the country at his own discretion.”

Political expert Dmytro Levus, the director of the Ukrainian Meridian research center, said that the constitutional changes had symbolic importance first and foremost, as they were only the start of a push for democratization that would be prolonged and produce many political battles.

“Democracy is not a thing you can install once and for all, it’s a process,” Levus said.

Hyped as decentralization, the constitutional changes could potentially strengthen local democracy by transferring power to locally elected bodies from central government institutions and presidential appointed heads of oblast and district administrations. If passed in the second reading by Parliament during the autumn session, the changes in local public administration would take effect in 2017.

From – http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/mayhem-inside-outside-rada-as-parliament-passes-decentralization-bill-396894.html

Russia’s economic crisis: five key charts

Russia is being buffeted by a perfect storm as the plummeting oil price and western sanctions weaken the rouble and the wider economy

Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, have been left out in the economic wilderness as sanctions imposed by the west, a tanking oil price, and plunging rouble take their toll. Here are five key charts.

Russia’s economy has been hit hard by falling oil prices, with tension over the conflict in Ukraine undermining investor and consumer confidence. Growth fell sharply to 1.3% last year from 3.4% in 2012. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth of just 0.2% this year. In early December, deputy economy minister Alexei Vedev said low oil prices and the impact of western sanctions would push Russia into recession next year. The ministry slashed its forecasts, predicting the economy will shrink by 0.8% in 2015, compared with its previous expectation of 1.2% growth.

Russia’s economic health is heavily dependent on the price of oil, which accounts for about 70% of its exports. Moscow needs an oil price in the region of $100 a barrel to balance its budget. The central bank has warned the economy would contract by about 4.5% next year of the oil price remains at its current level for the next 12 months. The price of Brent crude has almost halved since the summer, from $115 a barrel to just below $60.

Faced with mounting uncertainty over the immediate future of the Russian economy, investors have been piling out of the rouble. As a result – and as the chart above so clearly shows – the rouble has fallen sharply against the dollar, hitting record lows against the US currency. The central bank’s attempt to stem the losses, by raising interest rates (more below) failed. However, the rouble surged 10% against the dollar on Wednesday after the bank announced fresh plans to pump money into the banking system.

In a drastic attempt to stem the rouble sell-off, Russia’s central bank raised interest rates to 17.5% on 16 December, from 10.5%. It was the biggest one-day increase since the 1998 financial crisis that plunged Russia into recession and shook stock markets around the world. Rates started the year at 5.5%. Sergei Shvetsov, deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, admitted it was a decision the bank would rather not have taken, describing it as a choice between “the very bad and the very, very bad”.

While other central banks are faced with low inflation – and in some cases the prospect of deflation – Russia’s inflation rate is above 9%. Consumer price inflation increased to 9.1% in November from 8.3% in October. The price of oil, Russia’s main export, has plunged, while the weak rouble has pushed the cost of imports up.