STRASBOURG, April 7 (RIA Novosti) – Russian lawmakers are considering sending a delegation to the Donetsk Basin in eastern Ukraine amid a wave of protests in the region against the country’s coup-imposed nationalist leadership, the head of Russia’s lower house committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States told RIA Novosti Monday.
The statement came after a council established by local pro-federalization protesters earlier in the day declared plans to hold an independence referendum by mid-May to create a Republic of Donetsk and probably seek to join Russia.
“I don’t rule out that representatives of the State Duma may pay a visit to the Donbas [Donetsk Basin] region, and meet, among others, with those MPs in the Ukrainian Rada who agreed to engage in constructive dialog with the Russian parliament,” said Leonid Slutsky, a member of Russia’s Liberal-Democratic party who also co-chairs the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The Donetsk Basin, long famous for coal mining, is considered to be the heartland of the popular pro-Russian opposition that rose against the existing coup-imposed regime in Kiev. It is a heavily industrialized and populated region, second in density only to the country’s capital Kiev and its suburbs.
Anti-government protests have rocked the Russia-leaning region since February 22, when a violent coup put an ultranationalist regime in power in the country’s capital.
Following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, the Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, called an early presidential election for May 25 and appointed Olexander Turchinov as its speaker.
Turchinov promptly sacked 18 of 24 regional governors across the country – including those in the Donbas regions of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkov – replacing them with oligarchs. The three eastern regions vigorously opposed the new appointments, with anti-Kiev activists seizing government buildings in the regional capitals.
Pro-Russian opposition protesters have been rallying across Ukraine’s eastern and southeastern territories every Sunday since the change of power in the country. Many grassroots leaders say they will not recognize the new parliament and have been vying for a referendum on the possibility of a federal form of government for the country.
In Donetsk, protesters have taken control of the regional government building and set up a people’s assembly that is intent on holding a secession vote by May 11.