Ukraine’s president promised Wednesday to introduce a bill as early as next week that would offer greater autonomy to the pro-Russian east, where separatists have been battling government troops for almost five months.
But President Petro Poroshenko said the regions would remain part of Ukraine and rejected the idea of federalization, something both Russia and the separatists are still pushing for even after a cease-fire that began Friday.
The cease-fire deal reached in Belarus “envisages the restoration and preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, including the part that is temporarily under control of the rebels,” Poroshenko said during a televised Cabinet meeting. “Ukraine has made no concessions with regards to its territorial integrity.”
Ukraine and the West have repeatedly accused Russia of fueling the separatists with arms, expertise and even its own troops, something Russia denies. In late August, NATO estimated that more than 1,000 Russian troops were operating on Ukrainian soil, helping to turn the tide of the war in the rebels’ favor.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Wednesday for new sanctions against Russia, which were drawn up Monday by the 28-nation European Union but have not yet been enforced because the peace plan for eastern Ukraine has not been fully implemented. The new sanctions are expected to deepen earlier penalties targeting Russia’s energy and arms sectors and tighten Russia’s access to international loans.
Merkel told Germany’s parliament that the cease-fire has improved the situation on the ground but there was “a lack of clarity on the fulfillment” of many other points of the peace plan.
Ambassadors from EU nations were meeting later Wednesday in Brussels to discuss the sanctions against Russia. Poroshenko has struggled to paint the Minsk cease-fire agreement as a victory rather than a defeat. Poroshenko says since the agreement, 70% of the Russian troops in Ukraine have been withdrawn.