Ukrainian president says he’s open to referendum on regional powers

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (RIA Novosti/Mikhail Palinchak)
The Ukrainian president said he doesn’t object to a referendum on the decentralization of Ukraine, which could give greater powers to the Donbass region. However, the rebels in eastern Ukraine have denounced Petro Poroshenko’s promises as ‘meaningless.’

On Monday, Poroshenko said his government’s previously unfavorable stance on autonomy for the Donetsk and Lugansk regions has shifted.

“I'm ready to launch a referendum on the issue of state governance if you decide it is necessary,” he told the parliamentary commission, which is working on relevant amendments to the Ukrainian constitution.

Poroshenko stressed he is still opposed to federalization for Donetsk and Lugansk, but favors decentralization of power.

However, such key issues as security, defense and foreign policy should remain in the hands of the state government in Kiev, he added.

The head of the People’s Council of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrey Purgin, has called Poroshenko’s promises “meaningless” as he doesn’t see how a referendum can be made a reality.

“There’s no law on the referendum in Ukraine and it’s not really clear how it can be implemented,” Purgin is cited as saying by RIA Novosti.

The Ukrainian president also spoke out against granting Russian the status of a second official language in the country, saying: “Ukrainian has been and will be our only state language.”

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Purgin told AP that Poroshenko’s stance on Ukrainian being the only official language in the country shows “he doesn't listen to the voice of the east: we speak Russian here.”

Poroshenko praised the constitution commission for including representatives from different regions of the country, including Donbass. “I think it is important for the views of all regions to be represented in our constitutional commission," he said.

But the DPR’s representative at the Minsk peace talks, Denis Pushilin, stressed that Donbass representatives have no relation to the Donetsk People’s Republic.

“We can firmly state that the people, who are representing Donbas in Kiev have nothing to do with us, or the republic,” said Pushilin, as cited by RIA Novosti.

According to Pushilin, the Ukrainian authorities are only trying to approximate negotiation, instead of actually starting a dialogue with the militias.

“There are a lot of statements from Poroshenko, which contradict not only the Minsk agreements, but also common sense. They are again trying to simulate negotiations and the implementation of some measures,” he stressed.

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk again stressed Kiev’s unwillingness to start direct talks with the rebels.

"When we talk about our dialogue with the east, we mean a dialogue with legitimately elected representatives of the east of the country, not Russian gangsters and terrorists," said Yatsenyuk, according to Reuters.

Over 6,000 lives were lost during a year-long conflict between the Ukrainian government and the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR).

Kiev launched a military operation in Donbass in the southeast last April after locals rejected the new coup-imposed authority in the capital and demanded more autonomy.

On February 12, Russia, France and Germany brokered a peace deal between the sides of the Ukrainian conflict, which led to a decrease in hostilities.

The agreements, signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, among other things called for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and prisoner exchange.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the political dialogue between Kiev and the rebels still hasn’t started, nearly two month after the Minsk talks.

The issues, “which were agreed in Minsk and aren’t at all implemented include amnesty, special status (for Donetsk and Lugansk), lifting of the economic blockade (on Donetsk and Lugansk) and the launch of the political process,” Lavrov said.