Hopes rise that Minsk summit could rebuild Ukraine ceasefire

By bne IntelliNews February 9, 2015

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Talks between France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia on restoring peace to Ukraine's war-torn Donbass region have "reached progress in discussing a complex of measures to implement the Minsk agreements [on a ceasefire signed on September 5 by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Russian-backed rebels and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe]," Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement posted on his website on February 8.

The four heads of state will meet in Belarus' capital Minsk on Wednesday, February 11, and "expect that their efforts during the Minsk meeting will lead to immediate and unconditional bilateral ceasefire in the Donbass", Poroshenko said.

The deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, Valery Chaly, said on television on February 8 that the talks in Kyiv held on February 5 between Poroshenko, Merkel and Hollande had produced "absolutely new propositions" that built on the Minsk peace accords of September 5.

The Ukrainian president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks by telephone on February 8. The telephone conference - in the so-called 'Normany Format' comprising the four heads of state - followed consultations held in Moscow between Merkel, Hollande and Putin on February 6, and in Kyiv between Merkel, Holland and Poroshenko on February 5.

The three sets of talks failed to reach a breakthrough peace deal, but the leaders agreed to convene in person in Minsk on Wednesday, February 11. 

"We are planning for Wednesday if we succeed in settling the various points that we have discussed so intensively over these last days," Putin said on February 8, following talks with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in Russia's Sochi.

Merkel and Hollande have been leading efforts to establish a new peace plan. The details of the plan have not been released, but are thought to include a demilitarised zone of 50-70km (31-44 miles) around the current frontline.

On February 6, Merkel said that her initiative with Hollande for Ukraine was aimed at defending “European peace”, and that they were not acting merely as “neutral intermediaries” but were intent on trying to secure Russian support for the peace plan: “It’s about our interests, German-French but especially European interests… it’s about European peace.”

Merkel said on February 7 that sending arms to help Ukraine fight pro-Russian separatists would not solve the crisis there.

Merkel will discuss the initiative with US President Barack Obama in Washington on February 9. US politicians have sharply criticized her position and have accused Berlin of turning its back on an ally in distress. 

"Asserting that there is no military solution - which is a truism - should not lead us to believe that there is no military dimension to the problem or that hard power can play no role in a favourable solution," CNN quoted US Senator John McCain as saying.

At the same time, Merkel stressed she believes that if the West delivers lethal aid to Ukraine, Russia might escalate the battle and possibly deploy its air power, according to CNN.

 

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