Leaders in Ukraine Talks Announce Cease-Fire Agreement

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from The New York Times,

A renewed cease-fire and an overall agreement to end the war in Ukraine was announced here on Thursday by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France after marathon overnight bargaining that nearly collapsed at the very end.

The cease-fire is scheduled to begin at midnight on Saturday, but the 13-point compact appeared fragile, with crucial issues like the truce line left unresolved. Over all, there seemed to be no guarantee that the problems that marred the cease-fire agreement reached here in September had been ironed out.

The very fact that it took more than 16 hours of intensive negotiations to reach an agreement, and that the leaders announced the accord in three separate news conferences, seemed to highlight a certain lack of unity.

But after so many hours spent in the grandiose Independence Palace in Minsk, the Belarussian capital, all four leaders seemed determined to accent the idea that the agreement should be given the chance to quiet the yearlong conflict in eastern Ukraine.

… the plan also included some tripwires, not least the questions about the truce line and the fate of the village of Debaltseve, an important railroad hub that has been the site of fierce fighting in recent weeks.

The deal calls for heavy artillery to be withdrawn at least about 15 miles from each side, and the biggest missiles even farther. The withdrawal is scheduled to start two days after the cease-fire and to be completed within two weeks.

Aside from the cease-fire, the agreement called for a dialogue between the two sides on holding elections, with the talks to start the day after heavy weapons are withdrawn.

Russia is believed to be trying to create a frozen conflict that could be used to destabilize Ukraine any time it draws too close to the West.

“The practical, realistic expectation is a frozen conflict with no effective control by Kiev over those areas, but no formal responsibility of Russia,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

But the conflict has also reached a point where Russia would have to commit significant new resources for any advance, which helped clear the way for a settlement, Mr. Lukyanov said.

The separatists “cannot advance very much without direct Russian involvement, and Russia does not want to get directly involved,” he said.

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