Press Digest: Ukrainian parliament ties Donbass self-governance to end of occupation

Leader of the Batkivshchyna Party Yulia Tymoshenko (on the right) at the meeting of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada, March 17. Source: RIA Novosti

Leader of the Batkivshchyna Party Yulia Tymoshenko (on the right) at the meeting of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada, March 17. Source: RIA Novosti

The Verkhovna Rada passes a controversial bill, the West tells Russia it hasn’t forgotten about Crimea, and Benjamin Netanyahu wins an unexpected victory

Ukraine declares parts of the Donbass occupied

The news website writes that the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has recognized the parts of the Donbass under control of pro-Russian separatist forces as occupied and has introduced amendments that will allow the Donetsk and Lugansk regions self-governance only after the withdrawal of all "illegal armed groups and weaponry." Representatives of the self-proclaimed republics have reacted negatively to the move by the Rada, with officials from the Donetsk People’s Republic announcing that the vote by the Rada could lead to a breaking of the ceasefire and the violation of the Minsk Agreements.

According to Alexei Chesnyakov, a political analyst close to the Kremlin, the move means that Ukrainian authorities have given up on the Minsk Agreements. "Do the Ukrainians understand that by doing this they are strengthening secessionism in Donbass? I think so,” Chesnyakov said. “Now a new round of negotiations and information war will begin."

However, Chesnyakov suggested that the law was intended as a bargaining chip and so there may still be hope for the compromises made under the Minsk Agreements.

Valery Solovey, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), says that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements. The restart of military activity would threaten the existence of Ukraine and be extremely undesirable for Russia, Solovey said.


The West has not forgotten Crimea

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG) newspaper reports that the U.S. and the EU have made it clear that sanctions against Russia will continue until Crimea is returned to Ukraine. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said on March 16 that Washington would maintain economic sanctions related to Crimea “as long as the occupation continues.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke about the return of Crimea to Kiev's jurisdiction during a recent meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Experts say that the statements concerning Crimea are motivated not only by the first anniversary of the peninsula's absorption by Russia, but also by the Russian documentary Crimea: Return to the Homeland, which aired on the Rossiya 1 TV channel on March 15.

Vladislav Belov, Deputy Director of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences told NG that while the U.S and the EU see eye-to-eye on the Crimea issue at the moment, the views are likely to diverge.

"The EU believes that Russia's behavior is acceptable according to international legal parameters. Merkel has chosen a mission to restore the fundamentals of international law, which is why the Europeans will sooner or later try to dialogue with Russia about the international law aspects of the current situation. America, however, is not interested in such a discussion – something that will obviously expose the contradictions between the EU and the U.S.," Belov said.


Benjamin Netanyahu headed to a fourth term

The Kommersant daily reports on the preliminary results of Israel’s snap parliamentary elections. Although opinion polls had indicated a likely victory by the center-left Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu’s Likud Party won the most seats. An unusually high number of voters turned out for the election - more than 73 percent.

Given the fractured nature of Israeli politics, Netanyahu will likely need to form a coalition, and there is some intrigue regarding what deals he will make with potential partners, but he is likely to remain as prime minister.


Read more: Politicians trade barbs over Crimea on anniversary

Putin’s press secretary responds to comments by Jen Psaki and Federica Mogherini on the status of the peninsula.

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