The occupied Donbas “Reintegration Bill” passes with 280 votes in favour

January 18, 2018

As expected, 18th January 2018 witnessed the successful passage of the final reading of the “Reintegration Bill” for the currently occupied Donbas territories.

280 Verkhovna Rada parliamentarians voting in favour – following two days of hundreds of amendments and text tweaking from the first reading of the Bill last year.

At the time of writing, a comparison between the text of the first reading and that of which finally passed for presidential signature is incomplete.

However, there are, prima facie, some points to note relating to the final text.

As expected, The Russian Federation has been formally identified as an “aggressor” within this statute – and rightly so.

Also there is no mentioned of the Minsk documents whatsoever – documents that have never been ratified by any party, the Verkhovna Rada included.  Ergo, the deliberate omission of mentioning the Minsk documents and bringing them into the domestic legal arena is no surprise.  The Minsk process, such as it is, and for all its many failures and few successes (read limited sporadic prisoner swaps and little more with regard to successes) has continued to “work” without mention within Ukrainian statute thus far anyway.

The temporarily occupied Donbas (areas occupied and beyond the administrative control of Kyiv) have been thus labeled in statute – “temporarily occupied territories”.  A far more accurate description than the misnomer “ATO”.  A rebranding has occurred.

It thus follows that the statute identifies The Russian Federation as being responsible for both “moral” and “material” damages caused to Ukrainian citizens and to the Ukrainian State within the occupied territories (without defining the actually territory occupied), whilst underscoring The Russian Federation has no rights within these territories deprived of Ukrainian administrative control within its internationally recognised borders.

Further, those within the administrative and armed structures of the “Republics” can be held criminally responsible.  (That does not necessarily mean that such individuals will be held criminally responsible and that any amnesties under Minsk or presidential pardons are now redundant.)

For those souls within the temporarily occupied territories, the only documents Ukraine will recognise relate to birth and death.  No more and no less.

Attempts to grant the SBU extrajudicial powers with regard to social media, telephone monitoring and email access without court warrant have been rightly discarded from the statutory text.  (Naturally that does not mean such access does not exist and is not being pursued or engaged upon for intelligence gathering purposes regardless of legalities – but it means any evidence gained will have to be submitted only having been obtained with a court warrant for use in any due process.  Intelligence and evidence are not the same thing, so scope to play outside the rules of evidence remains – no matter how illicit that may be.)

No official “start date” of the temporary occupation of the territories beyond Ukrainian administrative control is provided within the statute.  It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this may have upon any subsequent domestic (or perhaps international) court cases.  It appears to be a matter for each judge to decide just when temporary occupation began and when Kyiv can be deemed to have formally lost administrative control of each and any administrative centre and/or process in a given location.

There may also be challenges to the law at the level of the Constitutional Court.  Prima facie there appears to be power granted to the President to employ and deploy the services of the Ukrainian military without parliamentary approval.  The issue being presidential (NSDC) nimbleness verses parliamentary oversight and control for some.

A more academic study of the statute when formally available may raise further issues – both questions and perhaps answers.

Quite what the international legal repercussions there will be relating to this domestic statute will be also remain to be seen.

Whatever the case, this Bill will not provide any immediate benefits with regard to “reintegration” of the temporarily occupied Donbas as its title may infer.  Ultimately it may have few short, medium or long term benefits – either territoriality or socially.  The “ways and means” for survival on either side of the front line are not going to change for those living there.

Nevertheless, it is a statute that domestically at least, recognises the limitations, and by extension reasonably expected administrative abilities of Kyiv regarding events within the temporarily occupied territories by way of statute, whilst naming The Russian Federation for what it is – an aggressor.  There is therefore perhaps as much symbolism as legislative gain from passing this law.

The most important domestic legislation expected to be passed by this Verkhovna Rada session, however, will certainly not be “Donbas Reintegration Bill”.

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