Ukraine ceasefire deal agreed at Minsk talks
Ceasefire will come into force on Sunday, but Hollande and Merkel say much work still to be done after marathon overnight negotiations.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, says fighting will end at midnight on 15 February and that both the Ukrainian government and separatist rebels will withdraw heavy weapons from the front line
The ceasefire will come into force on Sunday as part of a deal that also involves the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line.
Russian president Vladimir Putin was the first to announce the deal, saying: “We have agreed on a ceasefire from midnight 15 February.”
Putin added: “There is also the political settlement. The first thing is constitutional reform that should take into consideration the legitimate rights of people who live in Donbass. There are also border issues. Finally there are a whole range of economic and humanitarian issues.”
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who helped to broker the deal alongside the French president, François Hollande, said “we now have a glimmer of hope”, but added that the leaders were under no illusions and that “there is very, very much work still to do”. Merkel also confirmed that Putin put pressure on the separatists to agree a truce.
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Hollande said the deal covered all the contentious issues, including border control, decentralisation, and the resumption of economic relations, but also warned that much more needed to be done to resolve the crisis.
Hollande and Merkel will ask the European Union to support the agreement later on Thursday.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini sounded a note of caution, saying the Minsk agreement was important but not definitive. She added that she did not expect EU leaders to discuss sanctions against Russia at their summit on Thursday after the deal. The main points of the agreement are:
- Ceasefire to begin at midnight on 15 February
- Heavy weapons withdrawn in a two week period starting from 17 February
- Amnesty for prisoners involved in fighting
- Withdrawal of all foreign militias from Ukrainian territory and the disarmament of all illegal groups
- Lifting of restrictions in rebel areas of Ukraine
- Decentralisation for rebel regions by the end of 2015
- Ukrainian control of the border with Russia by the end of 2015
The participants also agreed to attend regular meetings to ensure the fulfilment of the agreements, a Russian-distributed document said.
Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, said: “The main thing which has been achieved is that from Saturday into Sunday there should be declared without any conditions at all a general ceasefire.”
Speaking after the talks, Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko called the treaty a “major victory for the Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics”. Luhansk leader Igor Plotnitsky said they would “give Ukraine a chance, so that the country changes its constitution and its attitude”.
But despite the celebratory words, the fledgling peace process remained very fragile. Zakharchenko warned that all “responsibility will be on Petro Poroshenko”, and that the peace process would fall through if Kiev violated the new agreements, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
“All the points require additional approval, and for this reason there will be no meetings and new agreements if any violations take place,” Zakharchenko said.
Residents of Donetsk, where civilians have continued to be killed by shelling this week, greeted the news of the peace agreement with cautious optimism. A small group of people rallied outside the rebel government’s headquarters in the Donetsk regional administration building, and a woman on stage declared that “today is a holiday.”
More hardcore supporters of the rebels were disappointed with the new agreement. The popular Russian nationalist publication Sputnik i Pogrom called the Minsk treaty a “betrayal of all that the rebels fought for, including some of our readers” and derided the “clownish half-autonomous status” offered to the breakaway republics.
Earlier, Ukraine had played down speculation about a possible ceasefire agreement, accusing Russia of imposing “unacceptable” conditions.
At one point during the negotiations Putin signalled his apparent frustration at the lack of progress by snapping a pen or a pencil.
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