Ukraine's parliament has adopted a new law, labelling Russia as an "aggressor" state over Moscow's actions in the eastern Donbas region. Kremlin's foreign ministry was swift to hit back saying the step is nothing short of "preparations for a new war".
Of the 450-member parliament, 280 parliamentarians voted in favour of ratifying the "Donbas reintegration law" after the bill was submitted by President Petro Poroshenko. The legislation, passed on Thursday (18 January), outlines the areas currently under the control of pro-Russia separatists as occupied territories by Moscow.
"The Russian Federation is committing a crime of aggression against Ukraine and is temporarily occupying parts of its territory," reads the legislation as it also sketches what should be Russia's legal responsibilities.
Donbas region, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in Ukraine's far-east, had been reeling under turmoil since April 2014 — a month after Russia annexed Crimean peninsula — with more than 10,000 people killed. "Temporarily occupied territory" was the same designation given to Crimea by Kiev in 2014 before it eventually became a part of Russia.
"We will continue to pave the way for the reintegration of the occupied Ukrainian lands through political and diplomatic steps," the Ukrainian president wrote on Twitter following the vote, which was hotly debated in the parliament for three days, considering nearly 700 amendments.
Russian foreign ministry sharply reacted to Kiev's move saying the approval of the use of force will remain a contentious issue. "Since being approved under the first reading (on October 6, 2017), the document, although having undergone certain corrections, has preserved its main orientation – to legislatively confirm Kiev's policy towards the settlement of the 'problem of Donbas' through the use of force," the ministry noted.
It added: "In essence, Poroshenko gets unrestricted, almost dictatorial powers for suppressing dissidence and discontent. This cannot be called otherwise than preparations for a new war."
Russia's actions in Ukraine's eastern parts are heavily contested as Ukraine and the western world accuses Moscow of sending its armed forces to take control of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. But, Russia constantly rejects those claims and insists those who help pro-Russia elements perform strictly on a voluntary basis without the auspices of Kremlin.
In a grim warning, the Russian foreign ministry concluded: "Unfortunately we are witnessing the emerging situation that is fraught with dangerous escalation in Ukraine with unpredictable consequences for universal peace and security."