KIEV/MINSK, September 5,2014
Ukraine’s government and insurgents signed a cease-fire protocol on Friday, bringing forth a glimmer of hope that an end of the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine is within reach.
The truce deal was inked in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, where envoys from the two warring sides as well as Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were holding talks for a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.
In a statement published on his website, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he had ordered the army to cease fire from 1500 GMT Friday, as agreed in Minsk.
Meanwhile, he stressed that the insurgents must also observe the cease-fire and that OSCE observers should monitor its implementation on the ground.
He also instructed Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin to coordinate with the OSCE, Europe’s security watchdog, to ensure international control over the compliance of the truce.
“Human life is the highest value. That’s why we must do our best to stop the bloodshed and put an end to sufferings of the people,” he said in the statement.
In Moscow, the Kremlin welcomed the signing of the truce protocol. Interfax news agency quoted presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that “Moscow hopes all the provisions of the document and the agreements reached will be thoroughly observed.”
Noting that the deal followed initiatives by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko, he voiced the hope that “the negotiating process will continue until the Ukraine crisis is completely solved.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told RIA Novosti news agency that the positive yet fragile trend in seeking a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis must be preserved.
“It is impossible and scary to do any forecasts. But our position remains unchanged — there is no other way but peace talks,” she said.
Citing an unnamed source close to the Minsk talks, Interfax news agency reported that the cease-fire protocol has 14 provisions, covering a range of issues including captive swaps.
Poroshenko, which is in Wales for talks with NATO leaders, said he expects a prisoner exchange to happen “in the very near future, most probably tomorrow.”
He added that the protocol outlines “12 practical steps” for establishing peace and stability, including the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the decentralization of power and guarantees for the Russian minority in Ukraine.
While welcoming the news, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen stressed that the next “crucial step is to implement it in good faith,” saying he hopes the deal “could be the start of a constructive political process.”
For his part, U.S. President Barack Obama also welcomed the ceasefire, but warned that it “has to be tested.”
Arkady Dubnov, an independent political analyst on Commonwealth of Independent States affairs, said the Minsk deal was the “first serious” ceasefire agreement reached in the Ukraine crisis.
Meanwhile, he said the Ukrainian government and insurgents saw the agreement’s objective differently.
“Kiev desperately needs a lull in fighting to replenish its troops, while Lugansk and Donetsk leaders push for political recognition of their republics’ independence, which they stressed immediately after the document was signed,” he told Xinhua.
Another important thing, he added, is that the ceasefire is a military-humanitarian agreement rather than a political one.
“Judging from news which came just hours before the agreement was signed, the insurgents kept fiercely pushing into (the Azov Sea port town of) Mariupol, trying to consume as much territory as they could before the fighting stops and bearing in mind that territory could remain as part of their republic in future,” Dubnov said.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said in a statement earlier in the day that the rebels attacked Mariupol outskirts overnight with rocket fire, killing at least three civilians, including two children.
Military clashes between Ukrainian government troops and independence-seeking militia, which started in March, have claimed at least 2,600 lives with hundreds of thousands others displaced.