Following all-night negotiations in Minsk, Russian and European leaders signed a tentative agreement Thursday for a cease-fire in war-torn areas of Eastern Ukraine. The truce will go into effect at midnight Saturday night, as the day turns to Feb. 15.
The deal included the removal of heavy weapons from an agreed-upon “buffer zone,” as well as plans for humanitarian aid to areas affected by the conflict. But several areas of dispute remained out of the scope of the talks, and it remains to be seen whether rifts between Ukraine and Russia can permanently heal.
Most notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the agreement allows a special semi-autonomous status for certain separatist-held parts of Eastern Ukraine, to be determined by ballot later this year. Ukrainian-held Crimea claimed independence last year, in an electoral referendum that international observers said suffered from manipulation by Russia.
In an interview with Quartz, former British diplomat Ian Bond expressed skepticism the ceasefire would hold up. And, even if it does, “Putin’s guys now have two and half days to conquer as much territory as they can.”
Ukraine has not recognized any of the areas within its borders where Russia-aligned rebels have declared independence. And its president, Petro Poroshenko, has denied that Thursday’s agreement includes provisions for rebel area’s semi-independence.
The deal will also provide amnesty to all hostages held by both the pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian sides of the conflict, under a principle termed “all for all.”
Other areas, such as the status of disputed city Debaltseve, are not covered by the agreement at all.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande expressed tentative optimism, with Merkel calling the treaty a “glimmer of hope,” though repeatedly emphasizing that Europe has “no illusions.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest also supported the deal, saying it “represents a potentially significant step toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.” The United States was not represented at the negotiating table in the Belarusian capital.
For his part, Putin said that Wednesday was “not the best night of my life,” but that he supported the agreement. Nevertheless, all remaining ambiguities seem inclined to result in Russia’s favor.
On the streets of Donetsk, the rebel-held city of Eastern Ukraine, Putin-backed separatists called Thursday a “holiday,” according to The Guardian, apparently optimistic that their part of the country would soon come under Putin’s direct control.
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