Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday leaders had agreed on a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, Russia Today reports.
The deal was reached following overnight talks between Putin, his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Minsk. Hollande said that the parties had reached an agreement to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, kyivpost reports.
A compromise decision was taken over the disengagement line, which was the biggest stumbling block in the negotiation. Putin said Kyiv’s troops would pull back heavy weapons from the current frontline. The separatists would pull back from the line as it existed in September, when the previous ceasefire agreement was signed.
The security zone separating the warring parties must be at least 50km wide for artillery over 100mm caliber, 70km for regular multiple rocket launchers and 100km for heavier weapons with a longer range, like Tochka-U ballistic missiles, the document states.
The agreement also repeats the points of last year’s truce, including political reform in Ukraine, Putin said. The special status provision requires Ukraine to adopt legislation which would provide permanent privileges to Lugansk and Donetsk Regions by the end of 2015.
The terms of the ceasefire are spelled out in a document signed by members of the so-called contact group, which includes representatives from the unrecognised Donetsk, Luhansk republics, Kyiv, Russia and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, Putin said.
According to The Telegraph, Poroshenko said in the next 19 days all prisoners of war and hostages are to be released. It is unclear whether this included Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian army helicopter pilot who is being held in a Russian prisoner on charges of murdering two Russian journalists in the war zone. In a sign that major disagreements remain, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko did not attend an anticipated public signing ceremony and gave separate statements to the press after the talks.
“And the commitment to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity suggests the Kremlin has again rejected the separatists’ stated aim of full independence from Ukraine, while Mr Poroshenko has conceded that rebel-controlled regions must have a some degree of autonomy. That likely means that Kyiv will be lumbered with the bill for funding the Donbas while having little or no control over the region. Mr Poroshenko previously cut off all government funding and public services in rebel held areas,” Roland Oliphant, The Telegraph on-the-scene correspondent gives a running commentary.
Participants at international peace talks told Reuters on Thursday night that pro-Russian separatists were refusing to sign an agreement unless Kyiv agreed to withdraw its troops from the railvay town of Debaltseve, an important road hub partially surrounded by pro-Moscow forces. At the same time separatists in eastern Ukraine have tightened the pressure on Kiev by launching some of the war’s worst fighting near Debaltseve.
“The delay before implementation of the ceasefire potentially grants both sides time to grab more ground before the guns fall silent. Russian-backed separatists may use the next two days to finish off their assault on the railways junction of Debaltseve,” The Telegraph correspondent says.