French, German Leaders Negotiate Ukraine Ceasefire

Leaders agree to a truce, but Ukraine is still a long way off from ending the war in the Donbas.

Enrico Letta, François Hollande, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, the leaders of Italy, France, America and Germany, talk on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, September 5, 2013
Enrico Letta, François Hollande, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, the leaders of Italy, France, America and Germany, talk on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, September 5, 2013 (Bundesregierung)

The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine have agreed to a ceasefire in the Donbas after lengthy negotiations in Belarus’ capital, Minsk.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who had jointly initiated the talks with French president François Hollande, told reporters the deal offered a “glimmer of hope” but admitted obstacles remain in the way of peace.

The truce is to go into effect on Sunday following the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontline and is conditioned on constitutional reforms that should give the eastern regions of Ukraine more autonomy from the government in Kiev.

Compromise

The outlines of the deal are similar to one negotiated in September.

The Russian-backed separatists wanted the deal to reflect territorial gains they have made since. In a compromise, they are to withdraw from the frontline set by the earlier Minsk agreement while Ukrainian government forces are to pull back from the current frontline.

Russian denials

Russia still denies it supports the insurgency even if Russian soldiers and weapons have found their way into Ukraine.

The Kremlin said it would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory but violated previous such pledges, including one made in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum after Ukraine had won its independence from Russia, by occupying and annexing the Crimean Peninsula.

Kiev’s commitments

The government in Kiev is supposed to amnesty all rebel fighters and resume the payment of pensions and social benefits to the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatists have declared breakaway republics.

Under the terms of the agreement, it is also to regain control of its border with Russia, but only by the end of the year, after local elections are held in the east and constitutional reforms are enacted to give the rebel regions more autonomy.

Specifically, Donetsk and Luhansk would be allowed to choose their own official language, which would presumably be Russian rather than Ukrainian, and get to form their own police forces as well as a say in appointing judges and prosecutors.

NATO membership

The regions would not get a veto over Ukrainian foreign policy, something Russia had asked for.

It triggered the crisis last year when it tried to prevent Ukraine from entering into an association agreement with the European Union.

Although the current Ukrainian government seeks NATO membership, Hollande emphasized before the talks that it was unlikely to join the Western military alliance any time soon.

Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has similarly called NATO membership for Ukraine a “project of the next few generations.”

The ceasefire does not affect the economic sanctions European countries and the United States have imposed on Russia.

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