By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he has signed into law a bill that supporters say will help Kyiv restore control of territory held by Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.
Poroshenko made the announcement in a February 20 tweet, saying the law does not violate Ukraine’s “international obligations,” including the Minsk accord.
The September 2014 and February 2015 pacts are aimed at halting the war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,300 since April 2014.
The bill, which passed last month with the support of 280 lawmakers in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, makes no reference to the Minsk agreements, raising questions about whether it could hamper efforts to end the fighting between the separatists and Kyiv’s forces.
Russia has denounced the legislation, saying it threatens to escalate the violence in eastern Ukraine.
The law labels Russia an “aggressor” and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces held by the separatists as “temporarily occupied territories.”
That same designation was previously given to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea that Russia seized in March 2014.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the separatists has triggered sanctions targeting Moscow by the United States, the EU, and other nations.
The law signed by Poroshenko also places all military and law enforcement activities in eastern Ukraine under the control of the Ukrainian Army’s top command, a move that formally ends what Kyiv has until now referred to as an “antiterrorist operation” in the area.
The legislation was opposed in parliament by the Opposition Bloc, a successor to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions that reformed after he was driven from power in February 2014 following months of mass street protests by pro-EU protesters.
Opposition Bloc lawmakers argued that the law would not help reintegrate the separatist-held areas and would undercut the Minsk accords.