Ben Aris in Moscow -
As was anticipated, a ceasefire was agreed between pro-Russian rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine and the so-called Contact Group of three powers at a meeting in the Belarusian capital of Minsk this afternoon, September 5.
Hopes were high that the meeting would be a success as bne reported, following a string of key concessions by rebel leaders at a similar meeting held in Minsk on September 1.
The rebel leaders signed off on 14-point plan that clears the way for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to order the Ukrainian army and its accompanying "volunteer" divisions to withdraw, with the ceasefire to take effect 18:00 local time.
“In Minsk a preliminary protocol on an agreement for a ceasefire has been signed. This protocol will come into force on Friday,” Poroshenko tweeted.
Representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (LPR and DPR) said they will make every effort to preserve Ukraine's unity if Kyiv accepts their demands at a meeting of the Contact Group, which is made up of Ukraine's former president Leonid Kuchma, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov and representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office on Ukraine Heidi Tagliavini. Taking part in the consultations are vice premier of the self-proclaimed DPR Andrei Purgin and the chairman of the Supreme Council of the LPR Valery Karyakin.
Details of the deal has yet to be released, however going into the meeting the terms on the table included some sort of autonomy for the eastern Ukrainian regions, and an amnesty for the pro-Russian fighters as minimum requirements. International monitors are also going to be invited to oversee the end to hostilities and an unconditional exchange of prisoners is due to happen, according to early reports.
The announcement is to be cheered and Russian markets and the ruble rallied as the reports filtered through. However, the situation on the ground as ever suggests that the orders have yet to go out.
The Russian-backed forces were pounding the strategic city of Mariupol last night and the bombardment continued even as newswires were carrying the announcement of the deal. It appears the rebel fighters are keen to grab the city, which effectively gives Russia a land bridge to the annexed territory of the Crimea before the conflict is frozen by today's agreement.
The ceasefire if it holds can be seen as a "win" for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as it is not clear if the rebel forces and the Russian troops known to be on the ground will withdraw back into Russia completely, or if Kyiv will effectively take control of the territory again.
What is likely now in a nervous standoff as Poroshenko and Putin sit down to thrash out a more permanent deal that will define Ukraine's relationships, not only with Russia, but also the EU. Putin's position is clear: Ukraine must agree never to join Nato, never to join the EU, and to maintain its close ties with Russia, possibly joining the Eurasian Economic Union that will be created out of the Customs Union from 2015.
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