Ukraine’s parliament ratified an agreement to deepen economic and political ties with the European Union on Tuesday, and passed legislation to grant autonomy to the rebellious east as part of a peace deal.
The ratification vote, draws a line under the issue that last year sparked Ukraine’s crisis, which resulted in the ousting of the president, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and a war with the Russia-backed separatists that has killed more than 3,000 people.
The ratification vote in Kiev, synchronized with the European parliament by video chat, was met with a standing ovation, and members of parliament leapt to their feet to sing the Ukrainian national anthem. In a speech to legislators, President Petro Poroshenko called the vote a “first but very decisive step” toward bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union.
Poroshenko also said that those who died during the protests and during fighting in the east “gave up their lives so that we could take a dignified place among the European family.”
“Since World War II, not a single nation has paid such a high price for their right to be European,” he said.
In Brussels, EU lawmakers overwhelmingly ratified the agreement.
“The message this sends could not be clearer: the European Parliament supports Ukraine in its European vocation,” said Martin Schulz, the president of the EU Parliament. “The European Parliament will continue defending a united and sovereign Ukraine,” he said.
In stark contrast to that fanfare, parliament went behind closed doors earlier in the day to approve two bills granting greater autonomy to rebellious regions in the east, as well as amnesty for many of those involved in the fighting.Rebel commander Alexander Zakharchenko told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that the separatist leadership would study the measures, an unusually conciliatory statement compared to the rebels’ previous claims that they aim for complete independence from Ukraine. The EU association agreement was long sought by Ukrainians who want their country to turn westward and out of Russia’s sphere of influence.