It’s still not a war, but maybe it’s progress. Ukraine formally dropped its “anti-terrorist operation” misnomer, or ATO, in describing Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2014.

But the nation’s leaders still can’t bring themselves to officially declare as war the Kremlin’s military invasion that has killed more than 10,000 people and cost Ukraine control of the Crimean peninsula and parts of the eastern Donbas.

Instead, Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko on Feb. 20 signed into law the controversial Donbas integration legislation that renames the conflict as “taking measures to ensure national security and defense, and repulsing and deterring the armed aggression of the Russian Federation in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”


Approved by the Verkhovna Rada on Jan. 18 with 280 votes in favor, the law declares Russia an aggressor state that occupies parts of Ukraine and governs them with its occupational authorities. As a result, it also states that Russia is particularly responsible for protecting human rights and providing decent living conditions for the local population on the occupied territories.

The document allows the movement of civilians and goods via the currently existing system of entry checkpoints installed at several locations along the contact line.

Furthermore, the new bill significantly alters the status of Ukraine’s military in the war-torn eastern region, providing the legal basis for the presence of Ukraine’s armed forces along the Donbas front line without the declaration of martial law. Strategic command over all combat units and other formations will be assigned to Ukraine’s Armed Forces Joint Operative Headquarters, the head of which is to be nominated by the army’s Chief of General Staff and approved by the president.

Following the signing of the law, Poroshenko on his Twitter page asserted that he expected Ukraine’s Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko to nominate a commander for the Joint Operative Headquarters, to approve a regulating act for the body, and to amend the strategic model of engagement of the Armed Forces in compliance with the fresh bill.


The army’s top command is formally put in charge of all military and law enforcement activities in the region, thus formally ending the so-called “anti-terror operation” run by the SBU security service in the Donbas since April 7, 2014.

However, the new law fails to overtly call the hostilities in the Donbas a war against Russia. Instead, the document repeatedly refers to “taking measures to ensure national security and defense, and repulsing and deterring the armed aggression of the Russian Federation in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”

In addition, the law in its enacting clause refers to an April 2014 act that declares the Crimea to have been occupied since Feb. 20, 2014.

Besides, the newly signed document, as opposed to its initial draft version, falls short of referring to the Minsk agreements as the basic roadmap for the settlement in Donbas. However, according to Poroshenko, it “by no means violates Ukraine’s international obligations, including the Minsk accord.”


“Ukraine stays committed to the peaceful settlement for the occupied Donbas as provided by our international obligations,” the president’s Facebook post also reads.

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