STRASBOURG, February 27, (ITAR-TASS). Ukraine’s parliament and new government should respect the rights of minorities, including in the language sphere, according to a European Parliament resolution approved on Thursday by most of its deputies on the last day of the plenary session.
Ukraine has seen President Viktor Yanukovich deposed in the latest wave of mass anti-government protests, which have been underway in the country since November 2013. The country’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has appointed an interim head of state and set early presidential elections for May 25.
The European Parliament urged “all sides and third countries to respect and support the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and called on “all political forces within Ukraine and all the international actors involved to commit themselves to work for the territorial integrity and national unity of Ukraine, taking account of the cultural and linguistic composition of the country and its history.”
The resolution said the European Parliament “calls on the Ukrainian Parliament and the incoming government to respect the rights of minorities in the country and the use of Russian and other minority languages” and “calls for the adoption of new legislation in line with Ukraine’s obligations under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.”
Following Yanukovich’s flight from his official residence, the Rada reinstated the 2004 Constitution that gave broader powers to the legislature and cut presidential powers. It also canceled the law on the fundamentals of the state language policy, which had given Russian the status of a regional language in 13 out of 27 Ukrainian regions, including Crimea.
Russians and Ukrainians constitute the majority of about 85 percent, and Crimean Tatars account for about 15 percent in Crimea. There are also many Russian speakers in eastern Ukrainian regions.
The European Parliament also welcomed targeted sanctions adopted by the EU Council, “including an asset freeze and a visa ban” directed against those the European Union deemed “responsible for human rights violations, violence and the use of excessive force.”
European deputies insisted that an investigation be conducted into what they called “the massive embezzlement of state funds and assets by the cronies and ‘family’ of ousted President Yanukovich,” and urged “the freezing of all their assets pending clarification of how they were acquired.”
One of the priority tasks on the new Ukrainian authorities’ agenda should be the fight against corruption, the members of European Parliament (MEPs) said.
At the same time, the MEPs urged the Ukrainian authorities to set up “an independent commission to investigate, in close collaboration with the Council of Europe International Advisory Panel and the OSCE, the human rights violations that have taken place since the beginning of the demonstrations.”
The European Parliament also “takes note of the decision to hold presidential elections on May 25, 2014” and “underlines the need to ensure that these elections will be free and fair”; it also said it strongly encourages the Verkhovna Rada to adopt the necessary electoral legislation in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission - a Council of Europe advisory body in constitutional law.
The parliament encouraged “international observation of the upcoming elections” and declared its “readiness to set up its own observation mission for this purpose through a substantial European Parliament election observation mission.” It stated that in its view, “legislative elections should be organized swiftly after the presidential elections and before the end of the year.”
The Council of Europe and the OSCE/ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) should “provide reinforced pre-election support and a substantial long-term election monitoring mission so that the presidential elections scheduled for 25 May 2014 can be held in accordance with the highest standards and produce a result all contenders can accept,” it said.
The European Parliament also said it “calls on the [European] Commission to work together with the Ukrainian authorities to find ways to counterbalance the effects” of what the European Parliament described as “the retaliatory measures adopted by Russia in order to stop the signing of the Association Agreement, as well as of possible new measures.”
It said it “welcomes the announcement by the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro, Olli Rehn, of the EU’s readiness to provide a substantial, ambitious, both short- and long-term financial aid package, once a political solution is in place based on democratic principles, a commitment to reform and the appointment of a legitimate government.”
MEPs urged Russia “to adopt a constructive attitude so as to create the conditions for Ukraine to benefit from bilateral relations with both the EU and Russia” and called on the EU and its Member States “to speak to Russia with one voice in support of the European aspirations of Ukraine and other EaP [Eastern Partnership] countries that freely choose to deepen their relations with the EU.”
The Eastern Partnership program is an EU project to develop ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
Kiev suspended work on the association agreement with the EU a few days prior to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November 2013. Kiev refused to sign the deal at the summit, opting for closer ties with Russia instead. Moscow then slashed the natural gas price for Ukraine to $268 from some $400 per 1,000 cubic meters and decided to provide its neighbor with a $15 billion loan.
Kiev’s refusal to sign the deal with the EU triggered mass anti-government rallies in Ukraine, which sometimes turned into riots.
A new wave of riots started February 18 and eventually caused President Yanukovich to flee his residence outside Kiev. The Verkhovna Rada took over, appointing its new speaker, Alexander Turchinov, as acting president. Turchinov on Thursday signed a decree to appoint Arseny Yatsenyuk, the leader of the parliamentary faction of the Batkivshchina party, as the country’s prime minister.
Yanukovich has called the developments “a coup.” His current whereabouts are unknown. Ukrainian Interior Minister Avakov has said Yanukovich and other officials are on a wanted list for involvement in “mass murder” during protests. A number of Russian media claimed on Thursday the ousted Ukrainian leader could be in the Moscow Region.
A total of 82 people have been killed and 855 have turned to Kiev’s medical institutions for help, with over 570 of them hospitalized, since the start of the latest violence on February 18.
Meanwhile, Yanukovich on Thursday said he still considers himself the legitimate president of Ukraine. In a statement obtained by Itar-Tass, he addressed the Ukrainian people and asked the Russian authorities to protect him. The request for protection “has been granted on Russian territory,” a source in the Russian authorities said Thursday.
The speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, said Wednesday that Viktor Yanukovich remained Ukraine’s legitimate president because no procedures had been carried out to remove him from office.
Russia earlier said it was suspending the allocation of the regular tranche of its financial aid package to Ukraine until a new government was formed in Ukraine.