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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2702

Ukraine crisis: Ceasefire starting on February 15

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

Following 17 hours of talks in Minsk, Belarus, an agreement aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine has been reached among leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France on February 12. They announced that a ceasefire would begin on 15 February.

Salient features of the agreement include: Ceasefire to begin at 00:01 local time on 15 February: Heavy weapons to be withdrawn, beginning on 16 February and completed in two weeks; All prisoners to be released; amnesty for those involved in fighting; Withdrawal of all foreign troops and weapons from Ukrainian territory. Disarmament of all illegal groups; Ukraine to allow resumption of normal life in rebel areas, by lifting restrictions; Constitutional reform to enable decentralisation for rebel regions by the end of 2015; Ukraine to control border with Russia if conditions met by the end of 2015.

Thousands of people have died in almost a year of fighting in the region. There has been a dramatic rise in casualties in recent days, with 263 civilians killed in populated areas between 31 January and 5 February.

The pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have signed the agreement. The deal also includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges, but key issues remain to be settled. Key unresolved issues include the status of Debaltseve, a government-held town surrounded by rebels, where fighting is still going on. Further talks will also be held on self-rule in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions.

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.”

French President Francois Hollande said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would ask their European Union partners to support the deal at a summit in Brussels on 19th February in Brussels. Ms Merkel said there was now a "glimmer of hope". Merkel also confirmed that Putin put pressure on the separatists to agree a truce. 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. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said European leaders in Brussels would be discussing ways to "help and sustain the agreement", but she ruled out the threat of fresh sanctions on Russia “but rather positive ways the EU can contribute to make this first step just one of many others," she told reporters in Brussels.

Last week, the US refused to rule out supplying "lethal defensive weapons" to Ukraine if diplomacy failed, but Russia says that would worsen the crisis. Speaking after the talks ended, Putin told Russian television: "It wasn't the best night for me, but it's a good morning." Ukrainian president Poroshenko - who had accused Russia of making "unacceptable" demands - said that "despite tension and pressure" Ukraine had not succumbed to "ultimatums".

Russia rejects accusations by Ukraine and Western powers that it is supplying weapons and personnel to the rebels - who are seeking independence for the areas they control.

The separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk gave the agreement a cautious welcome. In Luhansk, rebel leader Igor Plotnitskiy said: "We hope that thanks to our efforts today, Ukraine will change and stop firing at civilians, hospitals and socially important facilities." But Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Kiev would be to blame if the ceasefire collapsed and warned that there would "be no meetings and no new agreements".

For the rebels, the new ceasefire line is the same as the old one, so they lose some of the territory they have gained. But government forces must pull back from the current front line, and territory they have lost since January is confirmed as lost.

Overnight, Ukrainian military officials said 50 Russian tanks, as well as armoured vehicles and rocket launchers, had crossed into Ukraine on February 12.

If the truce holds, then Ukraine gets its eastern border back. But that can happen only after elections in Donetsk and Luhansk held under Ukrainian law, and only after a comprehensive deal on reform and decentralisation.

Russia’s independent foreign policy and its growing economic and political relationships with Europe became problems for Washington. So it seems Washington is using Ukraine to demonize Russia and its leader Putin and to break-up Russia’s economic and political relations with Europe. That is what the sanctions are about.

The longer the Russian war against Ukraine continues, the more likely it is that President Vladimir Putin’s regime will render weaker day by day, even if does not collapse. Many Russians complain that the Russian government made a strategic mistake when it did not accept the requests of the break-away provinces to be united with Russia. The people in the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces favored unification with the same massive majorities that the people in Crimea showed. Had these two provinces been united with Russia, it would have been the end of the conflict.

Obviously, neither Ukraine nor Washington is going to attack Russian territory. However it appears Putin had other ideas in his mind.

A peace deal in Ukraine on any terms other than Washington’s is unacceptable to Washington. The only acceptable deal is a deal that is a defeat for Russia. By agreeing to a Ceasefire, Putin has let USA take the credit.

The question is not who wins or who loses, but whether peace is ensured and established in Ukraine.

- Asian Tribune –

Ukraine ceasefire deal reached after marathon Minsk talks
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