KIEV - Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Wednesday condemned Ukraine for ratifying two bills on greater autonomy for the separatist east, saying they violated a peace deal and threatened a shaky month-long truce.
The latest wrangling over the east Ukraine peace plan came as Moscow celebrated one year since the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, a key moment in the crisis that shattered ties with Kiev and the West.
Legislation to give the rebel-held east autonomy is a key plank in a February peace deal aimed at ending over eleven months of fighting that has killed more than 6,000 people. But Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the law Kiev passed “in essence rewrites the agreements or, more simply put, grossly violates them”. Kiev argues the legislation is in line with the peace pact.
Lavrov however objected to Kiev’s requirement that before winning autonomy , the separatists must hold local elections under Ukrainian law, and with international monitoring.
Lavrov said this made the “liberation of the territories that they say are occupied” a prerequisite of the law.
“Kiev is looking to replace practically all elected officials with someone else,” he said in reference to the self-proclaimed leaders of the rebel-held areas. “Only when these territories are headed by people suitable for Kiev will the law come into force.”
Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada parliament on Tuesday adopted the two bills enshrining greater autonomy for areas controlled by pro-Russian rebels, despite fierce criticism from separatists and nationalists in Kiev .  A paper released by the Ukrainian foreign ministry Wednesday morning said that the bills “pave the way for the districts to hold free and fair elections and abide by their Minsk commitments.” Leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics said the decisions by Kiev undermine the agreements in Minsk and declared that Ukraine “does not want peace.”
“(Kiev) wants to destroy Donbas with violence and an economic blockade,” said the statement by Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko and his Lugansk counterpart Igor Plotnitsky.
“Compromises with Kiev are impossible until yesterday’s shameful decisions by (President Petro) Poroshenko and Verkhovna Rada (parliament) are overturned.”
The dispute threatens to derail the painstakingly-negotiated peace plan hammered out by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France last month, just as fighting has subsided.
The bills build on a first set of laws dating from September that gave “special status” to parts of Donetsk and Lugansk - including greater autonomy , priority to the Russian language, possible cooperation with Russia, and de-facto amnesty for those who took part in the insurgency.
Kiev said the latest laws fall completely in line with the February Minsk agreements and that is now up to the rebels and Moscow to grant access to monitors and withdraw all weapons.
On the ground, sporadic violence continued, leaving a Ukrainian soldier dead, security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in Kiev .
Lysenko said snipers and rebel armour continues to “provoke” Ukrainian positions, with most attacks occurring near Donetsk airport, the southeastern city of Mariupol and a road in the Lugansk region.