MINSK, Belarus (AP) – Guns will fall silent, heavy weapons will pull back from the front, and Ukraine will tra-de a broad autonomy for the east for control of the Russian border by the end of the year under a peace deal hammered out Thursday in all-night negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
The deal was full of potential pit-falls, however, that could derail its implementation. In announcing the plan, Russia and Ukraine disagreed over what exactly they had agreed to in marathon 16-hour talks, including the status of a key town under rebel siege.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that the agreement envisages a ceasefire that will be effective starting from the start of the day Sunday (2200 GMT or 5pm EST Saturday) as well as a special status for the rebel regions, provisions on border controls and humanitarian issues.
Ukrainian President Petro Poro-shenko said there was no agreement on any autonomy or federalisation for eastern Ukraine, a longtime demand of Russia that wants it to maintain leverage over its neighbour and prevent it from ever joining NATO.
The deal, however, requires the Ukrainian parliament to give wide powers to the eastern regions as a condition for restoring Ukraine’s full control over the border – a provi-sion that would be certain to trigger heated political debate in Ukraine.
The agreement is a complex com-promise that allows both Russia and Ukraine to claim victory, but it’s full of potential pitfalls that may derail its implementation. Uncertainty re-mained even regarding the decla-red ceasefire, as Putin admitted that he and Poroshenko disagreed on assessing the situation in a key flash-point, the government-held town of Debaltseve.
“We now have a glimmer of hope,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who brokered the talks in the Belarusian capital together with French President Francois Hollande.
“But the concrete steps of course have to be taken, and we will still face major obstacles. But on balance I can say that we have achieved gives significantly more hope than if we had achieved nothing. So one can say that this initiative was worth it.”
More than 5,300 people have di-ed since April in the fighting, which continued to rage Thursday even as the four leaders were engaged in talks. The deal envisages a buffer zone to be created by pulling back the heavy artillery and rocket sys-tems from 50 to 140 kilometres away from the frontline depending on their calibre. The withdrawal should begin no later than a second day after the ceasefire becomes effective and be completed within two weeks.
In a win for Ukraine, the rebel regions, which held their own elec-tions last fall that Ukraine and the West declared a sham, are obliged to hold a new local vote under the Ukrainian law.
But in a key concession to Rus-sia, the deal says the restoration of Ukrainian control over the border with Russia in rebel-controlled areas could be completed only by the end of 2015 on condition that Ukraine conducts a constitutional reform granting wide powers to the eastern regions, including the right to form their own police force.