THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE –KIEV – By Julia Lugovska* –
As the situation in Eastern Ukraine remains extremely tense and continues deteriorating, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and representatives of OSCE met in Minsk, Belarus, for the decisive negotiations. The talks started on Wednesday, 11 February, and lasted for over 14 hours. Talks were also attended by the representatives of the so called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky.
The talks were extremely hard for Ukraine, claimed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, as Russia’s demands were almost ultimatums totally unacceptable for Ukraine including federalization and constitutional reform in Ukraine.
As for the results of the talks, the sides have signed an agreement regarding the ceasefire and the further developments in the regions. In addition to that the current Minsk Agreement doesn’t cancel the outcomes of the previous talks and the terms of the previous Minsk Agreement of 19 September 2014, what was considered being an achievement of Ukrainian side.
According to the statement of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the outcomes of the Minsk talks include declaring of a ceasefire to start on 15 February 1200 a.m. local time, as the fighting and fire must stop from the both sides. All the foreign troops, military equipment and heavy weapons have to be withdrawn from the region during the following days. The troops must come back to the positions declared during September talks in Minsk.
Ukrainian Armed Forces have to restore control over Ukrainian-Russian border in Eastern Ukraine by the end of 2015. OSCE representatives are expected to monitor the process. The Minsk Agreement declares also that all the war prisoners and hostages, including Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko and movie director Oleh Sentsov held in custody in Russia, have to be released during 19 days since the beginning of the ceasefire. The hostages from the other side should be also released.
In addition to that local elections have to be held in the region in order to form the local governments and authorities. Russian President Putin claimed after the Minsk talks that Ukraine is expected to hold a Constitutional reform in the interests of Donbas people, giving Donbas region more freedoms and declaring federalization of Ukraine, though Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko strongly denied it and stated that Ukraine will remain united stated and there will be no federalization. Though, it’s worth mentioning that the term regarding the local elections is actually a step towards the demands of Russia and pro-Russian rebels as it gives the region more powers and freedom, so the region could probably turn for a gray zone, as Russia will continue influencing the situation in Ukraine and Ukrainian foreign policies through this region, as it happened with Transnistria (Moldova), Abkhazia and Ossetia (Georgia). That’s why the outcomes of the Minsk talks appeared to be extremely controversial as many politicians and experts claim the results weren’t that positive for Ukraine, while the terms of the agreement and guarantees are weak.
The new agreement’s terms include also amnesty for the members and leaders of DNR and LNR. The territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be declared as the “territories with the special regime”, with the efforts to restore Ukrainian control over the border to be made during 2015.
After the agreement was reached between the sides of the talks, representatives of the DNR and LNR have reportedly refused to sign the document demanding that LNR and DNR would be recognized as independent sides and subjects of the talks. Though, the document was finally signed by all the sides. The heads of Ukrainian and Russian General Staff are expected to meet on Friday, 13 February, for the talks regarding imposing the ceasefire and start to withdraw the troops and weapons.
Meanwhile, even as the talks in Minsk were have started, heavy fights were ongoing in Eastern Ukrainian regions occupied by the Russian and pro-Russian forces. Russia has sent another convoy with the troops and weapons, and the fighting intensified, according to the spokesperson of an anti-terrorist operation Andriy Lysenko. Heavy fights and shelling continue east of Debaltseve and near the city of Mariupol, both of them are the important objects and transportation centers. The neighboring cities and villages also come under fire. Every day of the fights leave casualties not only among the soldiers but also among the civilians in the regions.
As the agreement was already signed, the fights didn’t stop and continued to intensify. There were also reports of the intentions of Russian force and pro-Russian separatists to take the cities of Debaltseve and Mariupol before Sunday, 15 February.
According to the terms of the Minsk agreement, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared the beginning of a ceasefire on Saturday, 14 February, and the ceasefire came into power on 15 February, 1200 local time. Although separatists and Russians have violated the ceasefire several times, opening fire on Ukrainian positions and occupied cities, the situation remains relatively stable. Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities declare that in case the ceasefire will be strongly violated Ukraine is ready for an alternative plan and declaring martial law throughout the country.
*Julia Lugovska is an Ukrainian journalist and reporter based in Kiev, she specialized in Ukrainian and Middle East Affairs.