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News, February 2015
Ukraine 13-Point Peace Deal, Removal of Heavy Weapons, Compromise on Disengagement Lines
February 12, 2015
Ukraine peace deal: Ceasefire starting February 15, removal of heavy weapons
Russia TV, February 12, 2015, 19:45
An agreement has been brokered in Minsk to stop hostilities in Ukraine from Sunday. The deal was reached after marathon talks between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, and signed by the Ukrainian rebels.
“I believe we agreed on a big deal. We agreed to a ceasefire starting at 00:00 on February 15,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told the media after the talks were finished.
"The main thing achieved is that from Saturday into Sunday there should be declared - without any conditions at all - a general ceasefire," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told journalists in a separate statement.
A compromise decision was taken over the disengagement line, which was the biggest stumbling block in the negotiation. According to the document, Kiev’s troops would pull back heavy weapons from the current frontline. The rebels 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, such as Tochka-U ballistic missiles, the document states.
The weapons pullout must start on Sunday and be completed in no longer than 14 days. The OSCE is charged with implementing the ceasefire on the ground and will use its drone fleet and monitors to verify that both parties are sticking to the deal.
The ceasefire deal provides for withdrawal of all "foreign troops, heavy weapons and mercenaries" from Ukraine under an OSCE monitoring. "Illegal armed groups" would be disarmed, but local authorities in the future would be allowed to have legal militia units.
The agreement involves exchange of all prisoners, which is to be completed within 19 days. A general amnesty for the rebels would be declared by Kiev.
The national government’s control over the borders between Donetsk and Lugansk Regions would be fully restored a day after municipal elections, which would be held in the regions as part of a profound constitutional reform.
The agreement requires a political reform in Ukraine to ensure decentralization and a special status for its rebel provinces. It requires Ukraine to adopt legislation which would provide permanent privileges to the Lugansk and Donetsk Regions, currently self-declared republics, by the end of 2015.
The legislation would include the right for language self-determination and trans-border ties with Russia, as well as the authority of the local governments to appoint local prosecutors and judges, the document states.
Humanitarian and economic issues are also mentioned in the deal. Kiev would restore economic ties and social payments, which it cut in rebel-held areas, the document says. An international monitoring mechanism may be established for these payments.
During the transition period an internationally-monitored mechanism for humanitarian aid to the regions affected by the war would be implemented, the document sates.
Direct talks needed
Putin said that Kiev’s unwillingness to hold direct talks with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics was among the reasons it took so much time to reach an agreement.
“They may be unrecognized, but we have to deal with real life here, and if everyone wants to agree and have sustainable relations, direct contacts are needed,” Putin said.
He added that the ‘Normandy Four’ expect the parties involved in the conflict to show restraint even in the days before the ceasefire takes effect.
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 rebel forces, Kiev, Moscow and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, Putin said.
The members of the ‘Normandy Four’ – Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande – supported a joint declaration describing the results of their work.
The declaration was not meant to be signed by the leaders, Germany FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
If broken, no new memorandum possible
Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who signed the Minsk document, said it required additional consultation and warned that “if these terms are broken, there will be no new meetings or memoranda.”
He added that he and Igor Plotnitsky, the head of Lugansk People’s Republic, agreed to sign the document “due to guarantees from the president of Russia, chancellor of Germany and president of France,” with the hope that it would allow their people to “achieve peaceful development.”
The new Minsk accord gives hope for de-escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, although it would require a major effort to build trust between the parties involved. The previous deal collapsed as neither Kiev nor the rebels implemented it fully, which means the threat of renewed hostilities in Ukraine continue to loom.
The Minsk ceasefire deal, point by point
Russia TV, February 12, 2015, 19:32
A glimpse of hope has appeared for peace in Ukraine after a 13-point memorandum was signed Thursday in Minsk.
The deal was brokered by the leaders of France, Germany and Russia, who joined their Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday for marathon overnight negotiations.
The deal was signed by the so-called “contact group,” which includes the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, a representative of the OSCE, Ukraine’s former President Viktor Kuchma and the Russian ambassador to Ukraine.
Here is the breakdown of the deal:
1. A comprehensive ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Comes into force at 00.00 (Kiev time) on February 15.
Reuters / Maxim Shemetov
2. A pullout of heavy weapons. The parties agreed to a compromise disengagement line. Kiev is to pull artillery and other hardware from the current frontline while the rebels would do it from the frontline as it was in September, before they gained ground in a January counter-offensive. The OSCE-monitored safety zone would be 50 km to 150 km wide for weapons, depending on their range. The pullout is to be completed by March 1.
A Ukrainian army tank. Reuters / Maxim Shemetov
3. The OSCE will use its drone fleet and monitors on the ground, as well as satellite images and radar data to ensure that both parties stick to the deal.
Reuters / Nikolai Ryabchenko
4. Kiev and the rebels will negotiate the terms for future local elections in the rebel-held areas, which would bring them back into Ukraine’s legal framework. Kiev would adopt legislation on self-governance that would be acceptable for the self-proclaimed republics.
RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko
5. Kiev will declare a general amnesty for the rebels.
Fighters of the self-defense forces in Uglegorsk.(RIA Novosti / Nikolay Hizhnyak)
6. An exchange of all prisoners must be completed by the fifth day after full disengagement. That’s in 19 days, if the weapons pullback takes the full time provided for by the deal.
Prisoners of war who returned to the Donetsk People's Republic after the "all-for-all" prisoner exchange between the Donetsk People's Republic's people's militia and Ukrainian special forces, on December 26, near Konstantinovka, Donetsk suburb.(RIA Novosti / Igor Maslov)
7. Humanitarian aid convoys will be allowed full access to the needy in the war-affected areas. An international monitoring mechanism will be provided.
A column of trucks with a Russian humanitarian aid during the formation of a thirteenth humanitarian convoy for Donbas in the settlement of Kovalevka in the Rostov Region.(RIA Novosti / Sergey Pivovarov)
8. Kiev will restore economic ties, social payments and banking services in the dissenting areas, which it cut earlier in response to the elections held by the self-proclaimed republics. Their respective governments will resume taxation and payment for utilities. This provision is subject for further negotiation.
Citizens of Donetsk queue up to the main office of Oschadbank (State Savings Bank of Ukraine) in the city's Universitetskaya Street, 11.17.2014.(RIA Novosti / Masha Ross)
9. After the local elections are held in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, Kiev is to restore control over their borders with Russia. The transition may take time, which would be needed for a comprehensive constitutional reform in Ukraine.
Line of vehicles at the Uspenka checkpoint in the Donetsk Region on the border between Ukraine and Russia.(RIA Novosti / John Trast)
10. All foreign troops, heavy weapons and mercenaries are to be withdrawn from Ukraine. Illegal armed groups would be disarmed, but local authorities in Donetsk and Lugansk would be allowed to have legal militia units.
Victor Lenfa, commander of a French volunteer team fighting for the rebels in Eastern Ukraine.(Screenshot from RT video)
11. Keiv will implement comprehensive constitutional reform by the end of the year, which would decentralize the Ukrainian political system and give privileges to Donetsk and Lugansk. The privileges include language self-determination, the freedom to appoint prosecutors and judges, and to establish economic ties with Russia.
Verkhovna Rada meeting.(RIA Novosti / Alexandr Maksimenko)
12. The OSCE’s election monitors are to see that local elections in the self-proclaimed republics are up to international standards. The exact procedure for the elections is subject to further negotiations.
RIA Novosti / John Trast
13. Talks between the “contact group” will be intensified in various ways.
What brought Vladimir Putin to the table over Ukraine, and how to keep him there
By Robin Niblett February 12, 2015
The signing of the ‘Minsk II’ ceasefire agreement in the Belarus capital on Feb. 12 raises the question of whether the United States and Western governments should shelve the idea they have hotly debated over the past few weeks over providing defensive weapons such as radar systems, unarmed surveillance drones and armored transports to Ukrainian forces.
In recent months, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to have concluded that the original Sept. 5, 2014 Minsk agreement would constitute a strategic defeat, as it froze the conflict with only a third of the combined ‘oblasts’ of Donetsk and Lugansk under the separatists’ control. This was unlikely to give him the leverage to achieve his long-term goal of a subservient Ukraine within a broader Russia-dominated neighborhood. A new injection of Russian military supplies, trainers and ‘volunteers’ to the separatists at the start of the year led to a major military escalation and loss of life among civilians and fighters alike on both sides.
Since mid-January, the separatists made some significant gains, specifically retaking the ruins of Donetsk airport, pushing West towards Buhas and drawing a tight noose around the strategically important town of Debaltseve. But despite these gains (some 190 square miles by some estimates), the separatists are still far from controlling the two provinces. So what brought them and Putin to the bargaining table?
Ukrainian resistance and the growing impact of Western economic sanctions, whose removal became an ever more distant prospect as the conflict escalated, may have played a role. Another factor, however, will have been the transatlantic debate over providing arms to the increasingly beleaguered Ukrainian forces.
The argument in favor of arming the rebels was powerfully espoused in a jointly-authored report issued just before last week-end’s Munich Security Conference by senior former U.S. political and military officials, entitled “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence.” Economic sanctions have not deterred Putin from intervening militarily in Ukraine, thereby tearing up the post-Cold War European order. Nor has the withholding of military support. Ukrainian forces are willing to defend themselves and have the right to — they just need the right equipment. The United States and its allies should proactively help the Ukrainian government defend itself. By doing so, it is argued, Ukrainian forces could increase significantly the damage they inflict on the separatists and escalate the domestic political cost to Putin of Russian soldiers’ deaths, thereby driving him to the negotiating table.
The argument against was clearly laid out by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Munich. There can be no military solution to the conflict in Ukraine because Putin will always be able to escalate further than the West. And he is likely to do so, as he has more at stake. Given the hysterical daily reporting in Russia about American plots to bring down the Kremlin, Putin is no more likely to cave into Ukrainian forces backed by U.S. arms than to accept a diplomatic compromise. And once the West heads down the route of providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukrainian forces, and Russian ‘compatriots’ are seen to be killed by them, European nations’ relations with Russia could enter a confrontational deep freeze that would be deeply damaging to both sides for decades.
In order to avoid this outcome, Merkel decided to gamble her political capital and agree to meet with Putin, first in Moscow last Friday, along with French President François Hollande, and then again yesterday, something she had promised not to do unless an agreement were to be forthcoming. Had Putin not arrived at an agreement with Merkel, her ability to withstand U.S. calls to arm Ukraine would have been greatly diminished.
How then to proceed now that the Minsk II agreement has been signed? It is important to recognize that this agreement is broadly similar to the September 2014 agreement and, given that it does not clearly advance Putin’s strategic goals, conflict may again resume. Moreover, the fate of Debaltseve remains unclear. And, although heavy weapons are being withdrawn to specific distances, there will be no de-militarised zone, leaving the risk of conflict flaring up again quickly. Moreover, Ukraine will only have the right to regain control of its eastern border with Russia, and thus halt the inflow of heavy weapons, after local elections have been held by the end of 2015.
With these concerns in mind, U.S. and allied governments need to take this opportunity to consult as quickly as possible and set out a clear set of Western expectations and demands. First, they should state that any future spread of the conflict beyond the existing cease-fire line would be seen as an attack on the political sovereignty of the government in Kiev. Under such a circumstance, NATO members will not stand in the way of those nations which decide to help the Ukrainian government by providing them with defensive weapons.
Second, they should make clear that they will not consider easing any of the current economic sanctions until the Minsk II agreement has been completed in full, to include unfettered inspections by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Ukrainian government’s securing control of its border with Russia.
In the meantime, European and other governments should follow through with their pledges to support the government in Kiev financially as it begins its planned economic restructuring.
Should the conflict resume, military assistance by the West may not be any more effective than economic sanctions at changing Russian policy in the near-term. It may indeed escalate the conflict. But both policies are principally about imposing costs on Russia for its actions and accepting costs on North America, Europe and their close allies. It is essential that they demonstrate to Putin their willingness to take the risks involved in defending the values upon which their prosperity and security have been built these past 70 years.
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