[JURIST] The Ukrainian Parliament [official website] on Tuesday passed [press release] the first reading of a controversial bill that would allow Russian to be spoken in official settings in particular regions of the Ukraine. Opponents to the bill expressed concern [Reuters report] that the inclusion of Russian would divide the nation. The new bill would preserve Ukrainian as the official language of the Ukraine, but would make Russian a regional option in areas with a dense population of Russian-speaking residents. The bill must pass a second vote in order to become law. Opposition groups have said they will continue to stage protests.
Pro-western Ukrainians are wary of increased Russian influence in the country. In April 2010 Ukrainian prosecutors considered filing criminal charges after a Parliament session in which lawmakers hurled eggs and smoke bombs and engaged in physical violence in an attempt to prevent a vote [JURIST report] on a Russian treaty. The chaos erupted as lawmakers voted to approved a treaty that extended Russia’s lease on a naval base in the Ukrainian Sevastopol port on the Black Sea until 2042 in exchange for discounted Russian gas. The agreement was strongly opposed by pro-Western lawmakers who see Russian influence as reminiscent of Soviet occupation. The treaty came soon after the election [JURIST report] of President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian], who took office in February of that year. Yanukovych replaced Viktor Yushchenko [JURIST news archive], who had sought to cut ties with Russia and strengthen relationships with Western Europe. Yushchenko opposed the extension of Russia’s Black Sea lease.