Ukraine's warring parties agree to February 15 ceasefire

Mykola Lazarenk, AFP | Russia’s President Vladimir Putin faces his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, during the marathon meeting in Minsk

The warring parties in Ukraine agreed Thursday to a February 15 ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front lines in a deal French President François Hollande called a "comprehensive political solution" after marathon talks in Minsk.


Speaking to reporters after almost 16 hours of talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Putin said: “We have managed to agree on the main issues,” adding that a ceasefire would come into effect at midnight on February 15.

"The second point, which I believe to be extremely important, is the withdrawal of heavy weapons from today's line of contact for Ukrainian troops and from the line stipulated in the September 19 Minsk agreements for Donbass rebels," he said.

French President François Hollande called the deal a "comprehensive political solution" and said it provides "serious hope, even if all is not done".

"All matters are addressed by this document," Hollande told journalists, standing alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel after marathon talks with Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Merkel was slightly more circumspect following the talks.

"We have now a glimmer of hope," she said in a statement released by her office. "I have no illusions, we have no illusions," she said, before adding that "much work" remained to be done.

Putin went on to stress the importance of constitutional reform in Ukraine and the introduction of a "special status" for the rebel-held areas in the industrial east, while calling for "restraint".

"We proceed from the assumption that all parties will show restraint in the nearest future, before the start of the ceasefire," he said.

As the deal was being agreed in Minsk on Thursday, both rebels and government troops reported fresh fighting across east Ukraine.

Differences remain

But despite the fresh hopes for an end to the conflict, questions remained whether Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels had agreed on all of the terms of the deal, with Ukraine's President Poroshenko denying that there was any agreement about providing more autonomy in east Ukraine.

“We were presented with various unacceptable conditions of withdrawal and surrender,” Poroshenko told reporters after the talks. “We did not agree to any ultimatums and stated firmly that the ceasefire that is announced is unconditional.”

It also became clear that Russia and Ukraine continued to disagree on how to end fighting around Debaltseve, a key transport hub that would give the rebels access to important routes between the rebel self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Poroshenko said the documents signed envisage the withdrawal of all foreign troops and militants from Ukraine – a reference to the soldiers and weapons that Ukraine and the West say Russia has sent into eastern Ukraine to back the rebels.

Moscow has denied those accusations, saying any Russians fighting in east Ukraine are volunteers.

US General Philip Breedlove, the NATO supreme allied commander Europe, said again in December that the alliance has seen Russian troops and tanks entering Ukraine, confirming similar reports from international observers.

“There is no question any more about Russia’s direct military involvement in Ukraine,” Breedlove said in Bulgaria.


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