KIEV, UKRAINE — President Petro Poroshenko on Monday proposed a series of major concessions to end the uprising by pro-Russian rebels in restive eastern Ukraine, offering the separatists a broad amnesty and special self-governance status for territories they occupy.
The proposal also includes protections for the Russian language and would allow the separatist-controlled regions to elect their own judges, create their own police forces and cultivate deeper ties to Russia — while remaining part of Ukraine.
It would effectively formalize a concession of power to the rebels after sweeping military setbacks in August and September forced Poroshenko to sue for peace. Although Ukraine appeared on the verge of ending the rebel uprising weeks ago, a reinvigorated separatist campaign — which Ukraine and NATO claim has been backed by Russian arms and troops — left the Ukrainians facing devastating losses. Russia denies aiding the rebels.
Contained in a draft bill that Poroshenko has submitted to parliament, the proposal fleshed out a cease-fire deal reached with the rebels earlier this month and provided the most complete view yet of just how far Kiev may be willing to go to end an uprising that has cost almost 3,000 lives since April.
Poroshenko’s offer came as the truce, which entered its 10th day Monday, was already fraying, with intense fighting in pockets of the east now threatening to destroy the cease-fire. On Monday, mortar rounds continued to strike residential neighborhoods in the city of Donetsk a day after two vehicles carrying international observers were struck by shrapnel.
Some of the elements of Poroshenko’s plan resembled the so-called frozen conflicts in which Russian-backed partisans have seized control of territories in Georgia and Moldova, thus giving Moscow leverage over those countries and complicating their efforts to join NATO. But Poroshenko defended his proposal, insisting that despite the broad concessions, it would succeed in maintaining the rebel-held territories within the boundaries of Ukraine and prevent their independence.
“There is nothing more important for us than peace,” Poroshenko told Ukrainian political leaders Monday. “These are the key positions that will ensure it.”
But the proposal also put Poroshenko on a likely collision course with pro-Western activists and politicians in Kiev who believe he may be conceding far too much to the Russian-backed rebels. In turn, some separatists — a band of aligned militias that have called for the creation of an independent state called “New Russia” — offered highly skeptical assessments of the offer, while others dismissed it outright.
“We will take care of our land by ourselves,” Alexander Zakharchenko, the self-declared prime minister of the separatists’ Donetsk People’s Republic, told Ukraine’s Vesti news Web site. “On our land, it will be our people and our laws. There have been no discussions about staying within the territory of Ukraine.”
Poroshenko called for new local elections in the rebel-controlled regions on Nov. 9. Miroslav Rudenko, an official with the Donetsk People’s Republic, told the Interfax news agency that such a ballot would “be held only if the situation at the front becomes stable and if these elections unfold in compliance with the laws of the people's republics, not Ukraine.” He vowed that “neither Poroshenko nor Ukrainian state institutions will have anything to do with these elections.”
Although the special self-governance status would be guaranteed for only three years, it appeared to allow the separatists a chance to solidify their power in the regions where they have seized control, allegedly with the aid of Moscow.
Poroshenko’s proposal — which must still be debated and approved by parliament — came on the heels of a decision by Kiev to postpone Ukraine’s full entry into a trade treaty with Europe, a move that fueled further concerns among pro-Western groups in Ukraine that the government is sacrificing too much. Although Poroshenko said the worst offenders in the conflict would not be granted amnesty, critics said he was effectively rewarding violence and leaving thugs in charge in the east.
“This is a bad proposal,” said Ekaterina Butko, one of the leaders of the Maidan movement that toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February. “It goes too far. After so many people have died, so many houses destroyed, so many lives ruined, this would reward the people who did this.”
In the east, the fragile truce has been shaken in recent days by escalating violence. Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko accused the rebels Monday of having attacked checkpoints and other positions in intensified fighting over the weekend. The Ukrainian military, he said, was forced to respond.
“The attacks of Russian mercenaries have become more active to provoke our units to retreat from their positions,” he said.
For their part, the rebels charged Monday on their Web site that Ukraine had “repeatedly violated the cease-fire.” They said the Ukrainian military fired on separatist militias as well as residential targets in Donetsk, killing 20 people.
Russia’s envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is observing the cease-fire in Ukraine, accused the Ukrainian military of shelling rebel and civilian positions. On Sunday, two OSCE vehicles were damaged when observers were caught in the shelling.
“OSCE observers obtained vivid evidence that the Ukrainian military violates the cease-fire and shells civilians with heavy weapons,” the envoy, Andrei Kelin, told Interfax.
Lysenko, however, denied that the Ukrainian military had shelled “any residential areas and settlements” and claimed that rebels had committed hundreds of cease-fire violations over the weekend, including an assault by more than 200 rebels near the Donetsk airport.
Ukrainian officials also said two drones were spotted over the weekend, one traveling toward the strategic port city of Mariupol, where heavy fighting was recently reported.
Russia still has about 25,000 troops along its long border with Ukraine and more than 3,000 soldiers inside the country, according to the Ukrainian government.
The United States and other NATO countries started military exercises in Ukraine on Monday. Ukraine has recently sought to join the NATO alliance, but given that the uproar such a move would provoke in Moscow, there is almost no chance of that happening.