Ceasefire Reached In Ukraine

Publish Date
Friday, 13 February 2015, 6:34AM
Source - Getty Images

Source - Getty Images

Marathon talks in Belarus have secured a ceasefire in Ukraine's war with pro-Russian separatists, leaders say, after negotiations through the night to halt the spiralling bloodshed.

President Vladimir Putin emerged from the summit on Thursday with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, saying they had reached agreement on the "main" points.

Putin said a ceasefire would take effect on Sunday and heavy weapons would be withdrawn from frontlines of the conflict, which has already killed at least 5300 people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Hollande said there was agreement on "a comprehensive political solution," adding that there was "serious hope, even if all is not done". Hollande and Poroshenko stressed that separatist leaders had signed the truce, meant to replace an earlier ceasefire agreement reached in Minsk in September but rarely observed.

The talks in the Belarussian capital were seen as a last opportunity for European leaders to save nearly bankrupt Ukraine from ever-widening defeats at the hands of rebels said by Kiev and the West to be armed by Russia. Even as the deal was agreed, fighting over the past day in eastern Ukraine killed 10 civilians and two Ukrainian soldiers, Kiev and rebels said.

In another boost for Ukraine's beleaguered government, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said a deal had been reached on a new financial rescue plan worth $US17.5 billion. In total, Ukraine would receive $US40 billion in assistance over four years coupled with bilateral loans from other sources, Lagarde said, helping to stabilise Kiev's finances after 10 months of conflict in the east.

The talks in Minsk went down to the wire, with Poroshenko emerging early on Thursday after 14 hours of negotiations to say the Kremlin was posing "unacceptable conditions". Details of the truce deal were not immediately released. One of the main sticking points of the failed September version was who controls the 400-kilometre stretch of Russia's border with rebel-controlled Ukraine.

That sector is entirely under Russia and pro-Russian rebel control and is used, according to Kiev, as a conduit for separatist supplies - something the Kremlin denies. There was also deep disagreement ahead of the Minsk talks over the size of the territory the rebels will control, given that they have made considerable gains in recent weeks, pushing back the outgunned Ukrainian army and volunteer units.

Moscow is also pushing for the separatist-held territories to be granted a large degree of autonomy, but Kiev only says that it's willing to decentralise some powers. Poroshenko had said that he, Hollande and Merkel would speak "with one voice" to Putin, whom they accuse of backing the rebellion. Poroshenko was scheduled to brief a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday.

US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, warned that a collapse in the peace process could push Washington into approving deliveries of weapons to Ukraine, a step many European leaders oppose for fear of getting drawn into open conflict with Russia. The bloodletting in eastern Ukraine has been relentless in recent weeks as the rebels have pushed deeper into government-held territory and Kiev forces have counter-attacked.

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