News / Europe

Ukraine, Separatist Rebels Sign Truce

Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov make an official statement on the signing of the cease-fire agreement in Minsk, on Sept. 5, 2014.
Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov make an official statement on the signing of the cease-fire agreement in Minsk, on Sept. 5, 2014.
Henry Ridgwell

Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian separatists have agreed to a wide-ranging cease-fire deal after talks in the Belorussian capital Minsk. The deal was welcomed by Moscow and by NATO leaders meeting in Britain. But, there are lingering doubts over whether all sides will adhere to the agreement.

After five months of fighting that has taken over 2,500 lives, the cease-fire was declared, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, local time (1400 UTC).

Emerging from the talks in Minsk, the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, Igor Plotnitsky, said the separatists were not giving up their fight for independence.

“This cease-fire doesn't mean that the course that we are preparing, that our course to somehow secede, is over,” he said. “No, this is a measure taken in order to prevent further bloodshed among the people," said Plotnitsky.
 
The cease-fire deal lists 12 points of agreement - including the withdrawal of troops, a prisoner exchange, and the deployment of international monitors.

Speaking from the NATO summit in Wales Friday, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said the deal is the beginning of a peace process.

“We are ready to provide significant steps, including the decentralization of power, including the specialty and certain of districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, for economic freedom, guarantee [the separatists'] rights to use any languages on this territory, and defend cultures of tradition," said Poroshenko.

As the envoys in Belarus debated terms of the cease-fire, fighting raged on the outskirts of Mariupol, a large city on the coast of the Azov Sea in southeastern Ukraine.

The West accuses Russia of sending arms and troops to support the rebels, a charge Moscow denies. Separatists have made significant territorial gains in recent days, and a member of the volunteer defense force in Mariupol, Tatyana Chornovil of the Azov Battalion, says there are widespread fears of a major assault on the city.

"Mariupol is strategically important. If we lose it then we could lose the entire coastline, the whole of the south of Ukraine. Should that happen, the rebels probably will take over Mykolaiv, Odessa and Trans-Dnestr [a breakaway part of Moldova that is allied with Moscow] They will go right up to the border of Western Europe,” said Chornovil.

NATO also fears such a scenario. European leaders say they are finalizing further sanctions against Russia, although those could be lifted if the cease-fire takes hold and lasts.
 
One big question hangs over the cease-fire agreement, says Orysia Lutsevych of London-based policy institute Chatham House.

“What would be the role of Russian troops on the ground? Are they withdrawing? Or perhaps President Putin is planning to re-format it into some kind of peacekeeping operation," said  Lutsevych.

Lutsevych says deciphering Moscow’s game plan is difficult.

“Perhaps President Putin has already achieved his goal, to create a weak neighbor, Ukraine; to prevent its integration toward the West by establishing a frozen [stalemated] conflict in the Donbass region," she said.

A long-term political settlement still appears a long way off. Kyiv says Ukraine’s territorial integrity is not up for discussion, but the rebels say they will continue to demand independence.

So long as those differences persist, analysts say the cease-fire will remain fragile.

What's covered in protocol

Poroshenko told reporters Friday in Newport, Wales, where he was attending the NATO summit, that the cease-fire protocol includes 12 "practical steps" for establishing "peace and stability" in eastern Ukraine while respecting Ukraine's "sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence."

The Ukrainian president said "hostages" - an apparent reference to people being held by the separatists - should be released in the near future, possibly as soon as Saturday.  He also said Kyiv would take "significant steps" to address the concerns of residents of eastern Ukraine, including decentralizing power in the country and ensuring that any language can be used in the rebel-stronghold regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Poroshenko said he would fulfill everything that was included in a peace plan he put forward in June, including an "amnesty." In his peace plan, he promised amnesty to rebels who lay down their weapons and had not committed "serious crimes."

In his comments Friday, the Ukrainian president did not mention Putin's call in his 7-point plan for a pullback of government forces from population centers in eastern Ukraine, presumably leaving the rebels in control of the territory. Many analysts have said Kyiv would be unlikely to accept this, viewing it as a surrender.

Obstacles

In another sign of possible obstacles to a lasting peace, the leader of the separatists' self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, Igor Plotnitsky, said Friday that the cease-fire did not mean the separatists were abandoning their plans to split off from Ukraine.  

The rebellion in eastern Ukraine, launched in April by pro-Russian separatists, has killed more than 2,600 people and created tens of thousands of refugees fleeing areas near the Russian border.

Both Ukraine and NATO say rebels have made rapid advances in recent days, and accuse Moscow of providing direct help to separatists battling Ukraine forces in the Russian-speaking east.

Russia has consistently denied the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, while rebel leaders say they have been helped by Russian soldiers who have used their vacation time to battle Ukrainian troops on Ukrainian soil.

Some material for this report provided by Reuters

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Comments
     
by: Quoc Tuan from: Viet Nam
September 05, 2014 12:45 PM
Congratulations! The government in Kiev and the representatives from Donetsk and Lugansk finally has realized that all Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers are brothers of the same nation and brothers are better than the outsiders. The mother of Ukraine must feel painful when her children are killing each other to satisfy foreigners. So stop fighting and respect each other's views. We have best friends in Ukraine and my heart has broken when they are killing each other to seek closer ties with EU or Russia. Stop be stupid!

In Response

by: Anatolii from: Vladivostok, Russia
September 06, 2014 7:03 PM
Good day Quoc Tuan.
You are the only man here who doesn't have foggy head.
It is very sad a lot of people been died because of this fu...ng politic games.


by: Anonymous
September 05, 2014 10:24 AM
Don't believe Russia !!! EU must wean itself off Russia's gas!!!

In Response

by: J.D. Edwards from: USA
September 06, 2014 10:51 PM
Totally agree with you, Ivan.

In Response

by: Ivan from: Russia
September 05, 2014 11:58 AM
To Ed from USA:
Wherewithal, not wear-withal. Hey, Ed, milk your cows and buy a shovel. And you, the moderators of this website, do so. You screen the comments to only see what you love to see. Shame on you. Double standard here and the same double standard in the policy of your country.

In Response

by: Ed from: USA
September 05, 2014 10:59 AM
Totally agree! Only by austerity on the part of Europe, and continued, or even stronger, sanctions against Russia will Ukraine be truly free. Unfortunately I have my doubts that Europe will have the wear-withal to do this. I think Poroshenko realizes this and is trying to make the best of a bad situation with this ceasefire. If it turns permanent, it will leave Ukraine weakened but still better than it was under the previous corrupt leader and maybe a LITTLE BIT more autonomous than before.


by: Lawrence Bush from: Houston, USA
September 05, 2014 5:33 AM
A super power state in a region to play its cards, that's obvious...... If such cards are constructive, that's to stand for the prosperity, welbeing of the adjacent states; and, if that's in other way like the Russian interventions in the Ukraine state, it's dangerous. And, such consequences are in fore in Ukraine now. Russia is the same state that had had its roles as that's sustained in Ukraine now in many states in this world during the unfortunate cold war phase. While Ukaine is subjected to such brunts statim, the separatism does go on by the Moscow fuellings and moral and material supports; and the fights are on between the separatists and the Ukranian forces unabated since April last, let the world see how the Poroshenko regime backed by the western powers does withstand the Moscow machinations? It's right cease-fire is necessary between the Moscow backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and the government forces therein, alright, Moscow does have the dictates at Minsk talks, not the western powers who do not have strategies to stop killings and destructions in Ukraine instantly but to impose economic sanctions only.

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