The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France announced earlier on Thursday (12 February) that an agreement aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine has been reached, following marathon talks in Minsk, the capital city of Belarus. As Russian president Vladimir Putin said, “We have agreed on a ceasefire from midnight 15 February,” which is one important part of a deal, the other being the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line and prisoner exchanges. Mr Putin also added that “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 agreement was also signed by the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine where thousands of people have died in almost a year of fierce fighting. This deal follows a very similar ceasefire agreement negotiated and signed also in Minsk last September that, however, unraveled very quickly. Yet, there remain some key unresolved issues, which include the status of Debaltseve, a government-held town surrounded by rebels that has recently seen some of the fiercest fighting since the start of the conflict. Another issue that is subject to further negotiations concerns self-rule in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions.
Just moments after the news of the deal was announced, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that they would ask their European Union partners to support the deal at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Ms Merkel said there was now a “glimmer of hope” but big hurdles remained, while Mr Hollande said “the coming hours will be decisive”. Speaking to reporters in Berlin, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that EU leaders would seek to come up with ways to “help and sustain the agreement”, while stressing that “the issue [today] is not going to be discussion of further sanctions… but rather positive ways the EU can contribute to make this first step just one of many others.” Meanwhile, the U.S. has refused to rule out supplying “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine if diplomacy fails, which could be seen as Washington’s attempt to put more pressure on Moscow to ensure the due implementation of the Minsk deal.