Ukraine Cease-Fire Deal Signed At Minsk Summit
February 12, 2015
The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France have signed off on a road map for a Ukrainian peace deal after 16 hours of talks in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin said the agreement calls for a cease-fire to begin on February 15, for heavy weapons to be withdrawn, and a security zone to be established.
Poroshenko, Putin, French President Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stayed up all night negotiating to make the deal.
The agreement was reportedly also signed by the self-proclaimed leaders of the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Merkel and Hollande said Putin had pressured the rebel leaders, Igor Plotnitsky and Aleksandr Zakharchenko, to sign the deal.
Poroshenko said the document does not grant autonomy to the regions held by separatists and also envisages Ukraine to reestablish full control over its border with Russia by the end of 2015.
He added that Kyiv did not agree to Russian demands for the federalization of Ukraine.
The agreement also calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces, equipment, and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory.
In Washington, the White House welcomed news of the deal in Minsk saying it 'represents a potentially significant step toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict and restoration of Ukraine's sovereignty.'
But the statement sounded a note of caution saying, 'The true test of [the] accord will be in its full and unambiguous implementation, including the durable end of hostilities and the restoration of Ukrainian control over its border with Russia.'
Poroshenko also noted the deal calls for the release of all people held captive by both sides within three weeks on an 'all-for-all' basis and that it should be completed no later than five days after the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact.
Poroshenko said he was 'informed' that Ukrainian Air Force pilot Nadia Savchenko would be released 'in the near future' from a Russian jail, where she has been held for more than six months on charges of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists in Ukraine.
But Mark Feigin, a lawyer for Savchenko in Moscow, said he does not think she will be exchanged with other captives as envisaged by the peace deal but that her trial would be held.
But another Savchenko lawyer, Ilya Novikov, said he hoped she would be released by February 19.
The agreement reached on February 12 is to replace the Minsk agreement reached in September that had been marginally followed, with cease-fire violations considered normal most days as separatist fighters acquired more than 500 kilometers of territory from Ukrainian forces since the deal was signed.
Hundreds of soldiers were also killed and wounded on both sides during the first cease-fire deal.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 5,350 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes since April.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Minsk that 'we now have a glimmer of hope' for Ukraine but we are under 'no illusion' and there is still 'very, very much work' to do.
She added that Poroshenko has done everything possible to 'end the bloodshed' in Ukraine.
Hollande said the deal is 'a relief for Europe and a fine example of what France and Germany can do for peace.'
But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was also present at the talks, welcomed the agreement but said the deal is neither a 'comprehensive solution' nor a 'breakthrough.'
Putin said the agreement required Ukraine to undergo 'a constitutional reform' that would cover 'the lawful rights of people residing in [the] Donbas [region].'
He added that the sides also agreed on 'humanitarian issues' and the 'enforcement of the previous law granting a special status to [the Luhansk and Donetsk] regions.'
Separately, a parallel meeting of the three-way 'contact group' has been meeting that comprises representatives from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as well as from the separatist groups. It was led by OSCE special representative Heidi Tagliavini.
The OSCE was tapped to monitor the implementation of the cease-fire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact.
The exact details of where the line of contact would be recognized -- and whether it would reflect territorial gains made by the rebels in the past six months -- was not immediately clear.
The German Foreign Ministry said that the talks were 'not easy.' By contrast, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier that the talks were going 'better than super.'
Meanwhile, fighting ahead of the talks was fierce as rebels staged a counterattack early on February 12 in the area near the southern port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces seized a sizable amount of territory the previous day.
And especially intense fighting was reported for the strategic town of Debaltseve, which pro-Russian forces have been trying to encircle in hopes of surrounding thousands of Ukrainian troops.
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov told a briefing on February 11 that 17 armed forces servicemen and two Interior Ministry troops had been killed in shelling, rocket attacks, and clashes with rebel forces near Debaltseve.
He said 78 others had been wounded.
With additional reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, Interfax, TASS, and UNIAN
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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