Yesterday, the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia held peace talks in Belarus. Though the United States wasn’t represented at the summit, both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry has made clear that they support a diplomatic route forward.
And they got their way.
It took 17 hours of negotiations, but they managed to reach a deal. The ceasefire is set to begin at midnight on February 15 and includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges. French President Francois Hollande declared that the deal covers all “contentious issues,” but added that it doesn’t cover everything – a certain red flag.
To this end, Vladimir Putin commented, “There is also the political settlement. The first thing is constitutional reform that should take into consideration the legitimate rights of people who live in Donbass. There are also border issues. Finally there are a whole range of economic and humanitarian issues.”
And what about the rebels? Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko called the treaty a “major victory for the Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics”. Luhansk leader Igor Plotnitsky said they would “give Ukraine a chance, so that the country changes its constitution and its attitude.” But Zakharchenko was clear that the responsibility is on Kiev to keep the peace. As we’ve seen before, this is a signal that the deal is tentative to the separatist leader, at best.
This attitude is in line with the events of the past few days. Ukrainian sources report that 19 soldiers were killed while these world leaders met in assaults near Debaltseve, the railway town that the separatists shifted their focus to last week. What’s more, shelling killed five people in rebel held Donetsk.
These lost lives add to the more than 5,400 that have died since the conflict began late last year. According to the BBC, 263 civilians have been killed in populated areas between January 31 and February 5.
To be sure, residents in Donetsk and Luhansk will be relieved that there is another ceasefire deal on the table. Just days ago, a mother walking with her son in Donetsk suggested that they “shut all the leaders in a room like they do when they choose a Pope. Lock them in. Don’t let any of them out until they’ve reached an agreement.”
And to some degree this mother got her way. But as the BBC’s Richard Galpin argues, the deal is incredibly similar to the one brokered in September, which lasted no more than a few days.
The terms of the deal are as follows:
- Ceasefire to begin at midnight on 15 February
- Heavy weapons to be pulled out from conflict zones, beginning on February 17 and completed in two weeks
- All prisoners to be released; amnesty for those involved in fighting
- Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, weapons and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory. Disarmament of all illegal groups
- Ukraine to allow resumption of normal life in rebel areas, by lifting restrictions
- Constitutional reform to enable decentralization for rebel regions by the end of 2015
- Ukraine to control border with Russia if conditions met by the end of 2015
As Poroshenko argued, the most important component of the deal is that a ceasefire has been agreed upon. And I agree.
It remains to be seen, though, what will go on in the next few days before the ceasefire comes into effect as well as whether the separatists will respect the terms from February 15 and beyond.
It is my hope that the ceasefire holds and that the Ukrainians, pro-Russian separatists and Russians themselves can stick to the terms. Central to this is the regular meetings between the leaders who agreed to it and it is my hope that at some point the U.S. will become part of that group as we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the Ukrainian people.
Although I try to remain optimistic and always prefer a diplomatic route to peace than conflict, I – along with many other analysts – view this deal as tenuous at best. It follows that the conversation about arming the Ukrainians with U.S. weapons and offering military aid should not end because of the deal. In fact, there might be an even greater case to offer aid as a result of it.