KIEV: Ukrainian lawmakers on Tuesday ratified a landmark European Union (EU) pact and adopted laws granting self-rule to the east in crucial votes that will shape the future of the splintered former Soviet state.
But Russia signaled it had no intention of backing down in the most serious East-West standoff since the Cold War, announcing it plans to boost its troop presence in annexed Crimea.
The European and Ukrainian parliaments held simultaneous votes to approve the political and economic association agreement whose rejection by the former government triggered the country’s worst crisis since independence in 1991.
Lawmakers in Kiev also voted to grant self-rule in eastern regions under the control of pro-Russian rebels and offer amnesty to fighters under a peace plan drawn up 11 days ago to halt the bloody five-month conflict.
Insurgent leaders reacted cautiously to the moves, although they insist they want nothing less than full independence.
Poroshenko said the adoption of the 1,200-page EU deal was Ukraine’s first step toward membership of the 28-nation bloc.
The pact underscores Ukraine’s strong westward push just as Poroshenko heads to Washington for crunch talks with US President Barack Obama on Thursday.
“Tell me, who will now dare to shut Ukraine’s doors to Europe?,” Poroshenko said before the unanimous vote by all 355 members of parliament present.
EU leaders hailed it as a “blueprint for Ukraine’s transformation into a modern and prosperous European democracy.”
Washington also praised the pact, with State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf saying Ukraine had made history “in the face of great challenges.”
But the historic occasion was muted by a decision to delay until 2016 the implementation of a free trade deal, an apparent concession to the Kremlin.