Russian & Ukrainian leaders agree to cease-fire
(CNN) — Marathon peace talks aimed at ending the bloody crisis in eastern Ukraine concluded Thursday in a breakthrough: A ceasefire that’s due to start Sunday and an agreement for both sides to pull back heavy weapons.
If the ceasefire holds — which is far from certain — it could bring to an end a 10-month conflict that has claimed more than 5,000 lives, many of them civilians, and plunged East-West relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
Addressing reporters after the four-way overnight talks in Minsk, Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin said all parties had agreed to the ceasefire starting February 15 and called for restraint in the interim.
“I call on both sides to end the bloodshed as soon as possible” and come to a real political solution to the conflict, he said.
Putin added that all sides have agreed to pull back heavy weapons.
Germany’s Foreign Office confirmed on Twitter that an agreement had been reached in the talks between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.
“After 17 hours the negotiations in Minsk are finished: Ceasefire on 15.02 at 0:00 and the withdrawal of heavy weapons. That is a reason for hope,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted.
Full details of the agreement have yet to be released.
A previous ceasefire deal agreed to in September, also in Minsk, broke down amid continued fighting.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier voiced cautious optimism after Thursday’s deal.
“We have not achieved everything, but at least there is a ceasefire. This also includes agreements on securing the eastern borders of Ukraine, elections and the exchange of prisoners,” he said in a statement.
“It is a chance to move away from escalation and towards political momentum.”
There’s no doubt the stakes in the talks were high.
Not only has war raged for months in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels angry about political upheaval in Kiev have declared their independence, but it’s got worse in recent weeks, threatening not only the lives of more civilians, but the stability of the region.
The deal signed last September called for a drawback of heavy weapons, greater autonomy in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions and a buffer zone along the Russia-Ukraine border.
The new plan envisions a much broader demilitarized zone to run along the current front lines.
Russia has steadfastly denied accusations that it is sending forces and weapons into Ukraine. But top Western and Ukrainian leaders have said there isn’t any doubt that Russia is behind surging violence and separatists’ efforts to take over territory in eastern Ukraine.
IMF: New $17.5 billion program for Ukraine
Meanwhile, IMF director Christine Lagarde on Thursday announced a new IMF program to support economic reform in Ukraine that’s worth $17.5 billion over four years.
“Over the past year, despite the challenging environment, the Ukrainian authorities have clearly shown their commitment to ambitious reform on several key fronts,” Lagarde said in a statement.
These include strong fiscal discipline, efforts to reduce the country’s heavily subsidized household gas prices and moves to strengthen anti-corruption measures.
“This new program offers an important opportunity for Ukraine to move its economy forward at a critical moment in the country’s history,” Lagarde said. But it is also “subject to high risks,” she said, because of the geopolitical developments in the east.
The crisis in Ukraine, which stemmed from a trade agreement, has forced more than 1.5 million from their homes, according to the United Nations.
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