On Thursday (2/12), after 17 grueling hours of negotiations, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany announced that they had reached a ceasefire agreement to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The conflict has been waging since last February, when pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine refused to recognize the new government in Kiev following the Ukrainian revolution. The conflict has claimed more than 5,000 lives (many of them civilians) since then, and has sparked some of the worst tension between Russia and the West since the Cold War era.
The peace talks, which took place in Minsk, were attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“It was not the best night in my life but the morning, I think, it is good because we have managed to agree on the main things despite all the difficulties of the negotiations,”
Putin said shortly after the deal was announced.
Besides the ceasefire (which will begin at midnight on February 15) and a mandatory withdrawal of all troops and heavy weaponry from the conflict region, the agreement included a number of concessions for both sides.
Under the deal, separatists will be granted legal amnesty for their involvement in the conflict, and social payments like pensions (which were frozen amidst the fighting) will be restored to those living in conflict-affected areas.
In return, the Ukrainian government will once again be given full control of the border with Russia and of the banks in separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The deal also stipulates that a discussion on new local elections and the special political status of these two regions moving forward must begin the day after troop withdrawals.
The terms of the deal appear to be agreeable to leaders of the pro-Russian separatist groups in eastern Ukraine as well.
Igor Plotnitsky, of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, and Alexander Zakharchenko, of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, both expressed approval for the agreement in a televised statement shortly after the ceasefire was announced.
U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed satisfaction with the deal, saying,
“The United States welcomes the agreement reached today in Minsk… The agreement represents a potentially significant step toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty…”
Still, world leaders are tempering their optimism with a healthy dose of caution. A similar deal was struck in Minsk just last September, but that agreement quickly dissolved amidst continued fighting.
“If this is a genuine ceasefire then that would be welcome but what matters most of all is actions,”
said UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
After news of the deal went public on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying that any discussion about lifting sanctions on Russia was still premature.
“We will judge the commitment of Russia and the separatists by their actions, not their words… As we have long said, the United States is prepared to consider rolling back sanctions on Russia when the Minsk agreements of September 2014, and now this agreement, are fully implemented,”
Kerry said in the statement.
Just hours after the deal was announced, a Ukrainian military spokesman claimed that about 50 tanks, 40 missile systems, and 40 armored vehicles had crossed the border into eastern Ukraine from Russia overnight as the four European leaders discussed the ceasefire.
While this claim has yet to be confirmed, it is certainly not the best way to start out a new peace agreement.