Violent nationalist protests broke out in Kiev yesterday after Ukraine’s Parliament gave initial support to a bill that would devolve power to the breakaway eastern regions of the country—one of the conditions imposed on Kiev by the Minsk agreement. At least two policemen were killed by a hand grenade thrown by what government forces said was a nationalist protester, and around 130 were reportedly injured in the demonstrations. The New York Times explains the background on the measure:
Monday’s vote in Parliament was just a first step. Changing the status of the rebel eastern regions, as demanded by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, last winter, involves both an amendment to the Constitution, which must receive final approval from a supermajority of 300 of Parliament’s 450 members, and a separate law passed by that chamber.
The measure is fiercely opposed by Ukrainian nationalists and many others, who loathe any concession to Mr. Putin and see him as the driving force behind a civil war that has claimed more than 6,500 lives […]
Mr. Avakov [The interior minister, Arsen Avakov] said the police had detained a member of a right-wing paramilitary group, Sych, that is the militant arm of the Svoboda political party, one of the three parties that backed the Maidan street uprising against Mr. Yanukovych last year.
It’s important to remember that these autonomy measures are strongly backed by the EU and the United States. The State Department made the special effort of sending Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland to Kiev in July to help convince wavering lawmakers to support a similar autonomy bill.
President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, already beset by low approval ratings, are facing what might be the biggest challenge to their political fortunes with these bills. 265 members of parliament voted for the measure yesterday, but it faced stiff opposition by three major parties in parliament. Former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko (one of the heroes of the Orange Revolution who was subsequently laid low by allegations of corruption in the energy sector) appears to be trying to leverage the crisis in a bid to regain power. “This is not the road to peace but to decentralisation. This is a diametrically opposed process which forces us to lose territory”, she said after Monday’s vote.
The constitutional amendment itself should be up before Ukraine’s Parliament in December when it comes back from the courts, and it will require 3o0 votes for passage. That vote could easily end up being a pivotal moment in the country’s politics, and the future of the Maidan revolution.