On 24 January Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for a referendum on constitutional changes. These amendments to the constitution are an important part of the implementation of the Minsk agreements between Russia and Ukraine. They will be centered around extensive decentralization legislature, especially in the rebel-held areas of Donbas and Luhansk. Earlier this week, President Petro Poroshenko warned those that “block the constitutional process” that failure of the implementation of the Minsk agreements could lead to a “full-scale conflict” in Ukraine.
PM Yatsenyuk said that it is “high time for the Ukrainian people to have its say” and that a referendum is exemplary for the “direct popular rule, for which we were fighting on the Maidan”. While President Poroshenko said that “decentralization now enjoys strong support of the Ukrainian people”, he warned it should not be implemented now. He said the adoption of the amendments should be “preceded by a number of preconditions”. These include a lasting ceasefire, the admission of OSCE observers to the state border in the conflict area and the release of hostages. Speaker of Parliament Volodymyr Groysman opposed the use of a referendum on the matter as “all that it concerns shouldn’t be decided by a referendum” because Ukraine should remain an “unitary country”.
PM Yatsenyuk called the constitutional changes “a new agreement of redistribution of powers between authorities, an agreement on relations between the center and the country’s regions, an agreement on a new honest and fair judicial system, and on clear geopolitics”. President Poroshenko said that the implementation of decentralization legislature will also prevent the need for granting a ‘special status’ to the rebel-held areas of Donbas and Luhansk. Furthermore he said that the legislature would not lead to federalization of the country, as some of its critics have said. Instead he stressed that despite the delay in the adoption of the amendments, it has “by no means changed our political course towards decentralization”.
According to the Minsk agreements, that were signed in February 2015, Ukraine should have adopted the constitutional changes before the end of 2015. However, this was delayed several times. The Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) already gave preliminary approval to the amendments, but in order for them to be adopted, at least two thirds of the 450 MPs will have to vote in favor. President Poroshenko said he expects the adoption of the constitutional changes in the first half of this year. Parliament speaker Groysman explained that “discussions continue” in parliament and political parties will need “some additional time”. If fully implemented, the Minsk deal will restore Ukraine’s full control of the state border in the conflict zone, as well as the pullout of all foreign armed fractions.