Putin announces ceasefire in Ukraine

Written By komlim puldel on Kamis, 12 Februari 2015 | 20.01

The participants of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine left the Foreign Ministry in Minsk on Tuesday night, after two hours of negotiations on a peace plan for Ukraine. The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples' Republics (DNR/DPR, LNR/LPR) were represented by Denis Pushilin and Vladislav Daynego, who informed the press about handing in their own proposal for a solution to the East Ukraine conflict. The meeting took place in the Normandy Format, featuring key Russian, Ukrainian, German and French officials who are expected to focus on creating a demilitarised zone in southeast Ukraine as well as building constructive dialogue between Kiev and anti-Kiev leadership. Kiev's authorities were represented by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, as well as OSCE envoy Heidi Tagliavini, were also present at the meeting. According to the representatives of the contact group, no ceasefire deal had yet been reached.

Peace talks ... Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after the peace talks in Minsk, Belarus on Thursday. Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko. Source: AP

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin says that he and the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine have agreed on the withdrawal of heavy weapons from Ukraine's front lines and a ceasefire to begin from February 15.

Peace ... Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after peace talks with French, German and Ukrainian leaders about a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko. Source: AP

After 15 hours of talks in the Belarussian capital, Mr Putin said agreements had been signed, one declaring the ceasefire, the other to implement it.

"We have managed to agree on the main things," a visibly pleased Mr Putin told reporters in Minsk after marathon talks that began Wednesday evening.

"We have agreed on a ceasefire," he said, but stressed that Kiev was still unwilling to directly negotiate with rebels

Meanwhile, both rebels and government troops reported fighting across eastern Ukraine, and questions remain whether Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels have agreed on all of its terms.

Mr Putin told reporters that the agreement envisages a ceasefire that will be effective starting from 8am Sunday AEDT as well as a special status for the rebel regions, provisions on border controls and humanitarian issues.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, however, denied that there was any agreement about autonomy in eastern Ukraine.

Agreement ... German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she speaks with France's President Francois Hollande during a press conference aimed at ending 10 months of fighting in Ukraine: Picture: AFP. Source: AFP

More than 5300 people have died since April in the fighting, which continued to rage Thursday even as the four leaders were engaged in talks.

Speaking to reporters after the exhausting talks, Mr Putin said "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."

Mr Putin added, however, that he and Poroshenko disagreed on assessing the situation in a key flashpoint, the government-held town of Debaltseve, which has been the focus of fierce fighting for weeks.

Mr Putin's statement followed the talks brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, which dragged for nearly 16 deep into a second day on Thursday as the four leaders desperately sought to resolve their differences.

Mr Hollande said he and Ms Merkel are committed to helping verify the ceasefire process in Ukraine, along with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders.

Speaking after the talks, Mr Hollande said the announcement of a new ceasefire deal has come as a "relief to Europe."

A previous ceasefire agreed in September fell apart as Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels both tried to gain more ground.

"We came to an agreement, an agreement on a ceasefire and on a global political settlement of the Ukrainian conflict," Mr Hollande said. "That global settlement will include all issues, from the ceasefire to the control of the border, to decentralisation, and, of course, the pullback of heavy weapons and resuming economic relations."

He also praised Mr Putin for applying "pressure as much as necessary on the separatists."

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

Mr Poroshenko also 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 the accusations, saying Russians in eastern Ukraine were volunteers, but the sheer number of sophisticated heavy weapons in rebels' possession belies the denial.

Talks ... European leaders discuss peace in Ukraine. Picture: AP. Source: AP

The French-German diplomatic dash came as President Barack Obama considered rising calls at home for sending US lethal aid to Ukraine, a move that the European leaders fear would only widen hostilities.

The urgency felt by all sides appeared to be underlined by the extraordinary length and discomfort of the talks, which began Wednesday evening in the Belarussian capital and continued uninterrupted through the night as crowds of reporters waited anxiously in a marble-floored, chandeliered convention hall in Minsk.

While the four leaders hailed the agreement, it became immediately clear that Russia and Ukraine continued to disagree on how to end fighting around Debaltseve, a key transport hub between the two main rebel-controlled eastern cities.

Mr Putin said that the rebels consider the Ukrainian forces surrounded and expect them to surrender, while Ukraine says the troops have been blocked.

Mr Putin urged the warring parties to show restraint, adding that they agreed with Poroshenko to clarify the situation on the ground.

The Russian leader said that the peace deal they reached also determines a division line from which heavy weapons will be pulled back.

The line of division and other key provisions were contained in a document endorsed by rebel chiefs and the representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That agreement was endorsed by the four leaders, who issued a separate declaration.

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