Ukraine\’s parliament approved a draft law on Thursday to grant two separatist regions greater autonomy, a step towards meeting the demands of a ceasefire agreement for the pro-Russian self-styled "people\’s republics".
President Petro Poroshenko submitted the bill to parliament under pressure from Western leaders to grant the regions some powers of self-rule as part of the ceasefire deal agreed in the Belarussian capital Minsk in February.
Ukraine and the separatists have accused each other of not implementing the peace agreement, leaving the conflict in east Ukraine in limbo with more than 6,500 people killed since fighting broke out in April last year.
"We\’ve been talking about these changes for over a year. It\’s time to stop talking and get down to business," Poroshenko told parliament before the vote.
Opponents of the law said it undermined Ukraine\’s struggle to keep control of its territory after Crimea was annexed by Russia in March last year.
"Thousands of soldiers are giving their lives on the frontline for an independent sovereign state – not for the special status of these territories," Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko said, ending his speech with a rendition of the national anthem.
If the courts decide the law is constitutional, at least 300 of the 450 parliamentary deputies will need to back the bill in its final reading. The next session will be in the autumn after a summer recess.
On Wednesday, Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European affairs urged parliament to pass the law and said it was "very, very important" for Ukraine to follow through on its promises on autonomy in the Minsk agreement.
It is not yet clear what powers the two regions would be granted if the law comes into effect.