Updated: Ceasefire in Ukraine agreed in Minsk

Update:

It seems like the truce in Ukraine is fading away, as fighting continues after the ceasefire took into effect on the 15th of February. Heavy fighting is seen around Debaltseve, whereas other regions remain quite calm. Debaltseve sits on a railway junction, and is therefore a very strategic position to possess. Rebels had surrounded the area already since a few days, but now say they have almost taken over the whole town. Ukrainian soldiers are even asking for help, as they say they might all be killed. They say that they will be able to mainain their positions for a maximum of 12 hours. Violations of the truce have heightened concerns of whether the truce still stands. A pull back of heavy weapons is no longer relevant according to Ukrainian military, as they will not pull back their big armory while fighting is still present. Reports have been made of more Russian military equipment being on its way to the region, which only raises more concerns of a possible escalation. There have not yet been reactions on this matter from the other participants in the Minsk talks.

After more than 13 hours of negotiation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed on the Minsk Peace Agreement consisting of 13 points. Angela Merkel states that Poroshenko ‘’did his utmost to stop the bloodshed,’’ that has been going on in his country. Putin apparently exerted pressure on the separatists to agree with the ceasefire that will take into place on the 15th of February at 0.00h. Also, a $17,5 billion facility has been agreed between the International Monetary Fund and Ukraine

Minsk Agreement
The Minsk Agreement consists of 13 different points with the main one being an unconditional ceasefire that will enter into force on the 15th of January at 0.00h. A 50km security zone should be established with the withdrawal of heavy weapons and all Ukrainian and separatist groups should be pulled back. Foreign armed forces and military equipment should be removed from the territory of Ukraine. Other points include the ‘’all for all’’ principle in which both parties will release and exchange hostages and illegally detained persons. Next to that, pardons and amnesties are provided so nobody will be prosecuted when involved in the events that took place in the conflict zone. Concerning the state border, the Ukrainian government will regain full control of the Ukrainian state border throughout the whole conflict area from the first day after local elections - based on a constitutional reform - have taken place in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. The constitutional reform will provide for decentralization, and the adoption of permanent legislation on the special status of Donetsk and Lugansk. This will give eastern Ukraine more autonomy.

Tensions
Although a ceasefire will take into force in a few days, tensions do not seem to have reduced. A Ukrainian military spokesman has said that around 50 tanks, 40 missile systems, and 40 armed vehicles had crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine. The statement was not yet verified, but shows that some parties may not trust the agreement to be implemented. Also, it was evident that tensions between the political leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia had not cooled down as they did not appear together to announce the agreement.

International Monetary Fund
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced a $17,5 billion deal with the Ukrainian government on a new economic reform program, which will last for four years. This number might add up to $40 billion when other lenders are included in calculations. The program will support economic stabilization and a set of policy reforms that aim to restore robust growth and improve living standards for the Ukrainian people. The program will save Ukraine from being at the edge of bankruptcy.  The Board of Directors of the IMF will decide over this program within the next four weeks, after which the implementation of the program can begin.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says this multibillion-dollar package from the IMF will require ‘’very difficult’’ reforms including an anticorruption agenda, increasing energy-tariffs, governance reform of state-owned enterprises, and bank restructuring. She sees the program as a new opportunity and a turning point for Ukraine. This can boost the economy and if ‘’Russian aggression’’ was to disappear and internal reforms were successful; the economy could even grow in 2016.

Although a ceasefire is in place and a billion-dollar deal is in the making, it might not yet be time to cheer on a happy ending of the Ukrainian conflict. Earlier ceasefires have not been respected. It is hard to say whether this ceasefire is going to last or not, as there has been a major effort from all sides in the negotiations to establish a good result. As it will take two more days before the ceasefire will enter into force,  it remains to be seen if there will be more fighting to strengthen positions or if both parties decide to decrease fighting in the run-up to the 15th of February.

 

Sources: Reuters; IMF; Unian; Rferl; Uatoday

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