Representatives of pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine are seeking a special status for the region, a report said yesterday, in what would constitute a de facto division of the country.
Spokesmen for the groups based in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Lugansk told Russia’s Interfax news agency they were submitting a joint negotiating position in talks being held in Minsk yesterday.
The four-party meeting, behind closed doors in the Belarussian capital, involves delegates for the separatists, Kiev, Moscow and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
It comes after Russian President Vladmir Putin evoked “statehood” for eastern Ukraine for the first time in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
The rebel representatives want Kiev to recognize a special status for the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which would “take into consideration the necessity of deeping economic integration with Russia and the [Russian-led] Customs Union,” Interfax quoted a rebel representative as saying.
This would mean a de facto division of the country as Kiev intends to deepen economic ties with the EU. Russia has warned that special trade ties with Ukraine are at risk if it does so.
The rebels are also want security control over their territory, amnesty from prosecution and help rebuilding housing and infrastructure in the region.
After Putin was quoted as calling for “statehood,” his spokesman said it was an incorrect interpretation of his comments and the status of the region must be discussed between eastern Ukrainians and Kiev as part of a political resolution of the crisis.
As signs multiplied last week that Russian forces were directly involved in helping rebel forces stage a rapid counteroffensive, analysts said they believe that Moscow is set on creating an independent statelet in eastern Ukraine, much as it has done in Georgia and Moldova.
The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestiya published an interview yesterday with Denis Pushilin, a senior rebel figure who said that after pushing Ukrainian troops back, “we will create a new state.”
Pushilin, a former senior figure in the rebel Donetsk region, now heads a United Novorossiya Front that is linked to another group that brings together pro-Russian forces from across southeastern Ukraine.