THE Ukrainian government and pro-Russia rebels have signed a tentative ceasefire agreement in a bid to halt the bitter fighting in eastern Ukraine that has left some 2,600 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, said he had ordered government forces to silence their weapons at 6pm local time yesterday, though several explosions were heard just minutes later north of Donetsk, and some war-weary Ukrainians fear it will not hold.
The agreement, which has been seen as the first step to finding a lasting peace, was signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk and has the backing of Russia and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Mr Poroshenko said: “The highest value is human life. We must do everything possible and impossible to terminate bloodshed and put an end to people’s suffering. The entire world longs for peace, the whole of Ukraine longs for peace, including millions of residents of [rebel-held] Donbass.
“I count on this agreement, including the ceasing of fire and the freeing of hostages, to be precisely observed.”
Alexander Zakharchenko, a rebel leader in the Donetsk region, welcomed the agreement saying: “The ceasefire will allow us to save not only civilians’ lives, but also the lives of the people who took up arms in order to defend their land and ideals.”
Moscow, which has faced numerous accusations of not only instigating the violence but expanding it through the deployment of Russian equipment and regular forces, issued a statement adding its weight to the agreement and calling for it to be “thoroughly observed by all parties”.
Mr Poroshenko explained that the agreement covered 12 points and included the decentralisation of power, a prisoner exchange, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
News of the Minsk agreement filtered through as fighting raged in south-east Ukraine as pro-Russian rebels pushed on with an offensive taking them towards the coastal town of Mariupul. The outskirts of the town reportedly came under rebel artillery fire while the Ukrainian airforce bombed enemy positions.
The agreement will fail to prevent Moscow from being hit by a new round of EU sanctions.
“The ceasefire is good news,” said David Cameron during a press conference at the Nato summit in Wales. “We need to look carefully about whether it is a ceasefire or whether it also includes a commitment to make real progress on a proper peace plan.” He added that a partition of Ukraine would not be accepted as part of that plan.
“We should be clear that the sanctions will go ahead, they will be put in place, but of course if a ceasefire and a proper peace plan is put in place, then it will be right to look and see how those sanctions could be removed.”
While the ceasefire, if it holds, may bring some respite from the fighting, a peace agreement may prove much harder to reach. So far Ukraine has refused to countenance a direct meeting with the rebels, preferring to brand them as Russian “criminals” and “terrorists”.