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Contact Group for settlement in Ukraine meets in Minsk amid hope of progress

January 27, 2016, 4:00 UTC+3 MINSK

Despite very modest practical results of the recent meetings in Minsk, observers expect some decisive progress in the peace process

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© Viktor Drachev/TASS

MINSK, January 27. /TASS/. The Trilateral Contact Group tasked with defusing the Ukraine crisis will meet for a next session in the capital of Belarus, Minsk, amid expectations that progress may be reached in the peace process.

Despite very modest practical results of the recent meetings in Minsk, observers expect some decisive progress in the peace process. These expectations come first of all after a meeting of Russian president’s aide Vladislav Surkov and US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland on January 15.

Tonality of statements by the sides in the Ukrainian conflict has changed visibly after this round of Russian-US talks, while Kiev has made moves making it possible to return at the new parliamentary session to political agenda - the points on the elections and a special status for Donbass set in the Minsk agreements.

Just a few days after the talks in Russia’s westernmost city of Kaliningrad, news came that 51 deputies of Ukrainian parliament from the Pyotr Poroshenko Bloc and People’s Frond filed with Ukraine’s Constitution Court a motion that asks to extend the deadline for a vote on decentralization to the next parliamentary session that begins on February 2. This is the only chance to save these amendments, as the present session that ends in a week and that should have passed them under the final reading in accordance with the Minsk agreements has not even put them to vote.

On Saturday, January 23, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko called on the Verkhovna Rada to adopt amendments on the country's decentralisation at the next session.

"We have 300 (required) votes and the only thing is - we should show evident progress in the Minsk accords to the society and the parliament," Poroshenko said at a conference of local self-governing authorities.

US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt also appealed to Ukrainian parliamentarians on the same day to vote for constitutional changes with regard to decentralization.

The troubled Donbass closely follows the developments in Kiev, hoping a dialogue between Russia and the US will give a boost to the pace process. At the same time, the envoy of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Denis Pushilin, drew attention to the fact that none of the previous statements by the Ukrainian president were put into practice.

"The next meetings (of the Contact Group in Minsk) are to show whether the West represented by the US can influence not only statements, but also deeds of the Ukrainian side," he said.

Meanwhile, appeals have been heard in Kiev to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments with regard to decentralization. On Saturday, this initiative was voiced by Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk. On Monday, the idea was supported by Radical Party leader Oleg Lyashko. According to experts, the aim of this is to dodge the implementation of the Minsk agreements referring to the opinion of the population. "Yatsenyuk’s initiative is aimed at disrupting the Minsk agreements," DPR head Alexander Zakharchenko said.

The premier’s initiative has already triggered a sharp reaction from the pro-presidential majority in the parliament. Poroshenko also makes it clear that the West demands amendments to the constitution. "Decentralization is a key element in preparations for the EU membership. No decentralization - no membership," he said.

A constitutional reform is an important part of the February 12 comprehensive action plan to fulfil the Minsk accords worked out by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in the search for peace in the embattled eastern Donbass region.

A key element of reform is decentralization of government with respect to the peculiarities of certain parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions agreed with their representatives, as well as adopting permanent legislation on the special status of certain Donbass areas.

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