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After 16 hours in conference, leaders from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine emerged from negotiations ready to release details on a new ceasefire agreement. The plan provides some hope that the conflict in Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed rebels may soon be resolved. However, the framework is only the beginning of the process that will bring stability back to the region.
The agreement has been well-received by the global community. World leaders, including the United States, are hopeful, but the real test of the outcome of the talks will be on Sunday, when forces on both sides of the conflict are supposed to withdraw. Pressure has already eased on President Obama to provide military assistance in the conflict. The foreign policy chief of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, said that instead of discussing sanctions for Russia at its next meeting on Thursday, the EU will discuss ways in which it can help support the ceasefire in Ukraine.
The details that have so far been released on the Ukraine ceasefire are promising. The new agreement borrows many of its stipulations from the failed ceasefire of last September, including removal of forces and heavy weapons from the lines and oversight by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Unlike the last agreement, the plan approved by Merkel, Hollande, Putin, Poroshenko and the separatists provides a specific timeline for events.
The ceasefire is to take effect by midnight local time on February 15. No more than 14 days later, all heavy artillery is to be moved out of the region. This will also apply to all foreign forces and weapons. All illegal groups are to be disarmed. A prisoner exchange will take place, and humanitarian aid will be provided to the people of Ukraine.
After local elections are held, control of the Ukrainian border with Russia will be given back to the Ukrainian government. In addition, the new ceasefire calls for constitutional reforms to take place, allowing for greater self-governance in regions of the country. These reforms should allow specific recognition to Donetsk and Luhansk, where the fighting has been taking place, and should come into effect by the end of the year.
While this step toward peace in Ukraine is promising, the country has a long way to go in recovering from the conflict. To that end, as talks took place in Minsk, the International Monetary Fund made a decision to offer Ukraine a $40 billion funding package to help the country recover economically and avoid financial collapse.
Two separatist leaders appeared on TV to show their support for the agreement. Igor Plotnitsky, representing the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, agreed that “we must give Ukraine this chance.” Alexander Zakharchenko, who speaks for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, added that any violation of the terms by the Ukrainian government would put an end to further talks. He said that his forces will uphold the agreement as long as Ukraine respects it as well.
The details on the Ukraine ceasefire which have been released appear promising, despite further violence in the days leading up to and during the negotiations. Although the effectiveness of the new ceasefire agreement remains to be seen, leaders involved in discussions are cautiously optimistic. This new step in handling the conflict in Ukraine may finally bring it to an end.
By Kirstin Pinto