Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian separatists agree ceasefire deal

Ukrainian servicemen attend the forces disengagement near the Bohdanivka village, Ukraine, 09 November 2019. [EPA-EFE/SERGEY VAGANOV]

Ukrainian, Russian and negotiators from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reached an agreement on Wednesday (22 July) for a full ceasefire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine from 27 July.  European leaders had demanded a truce before they would agree to holding new Normandy talks.

The move was confirmed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s press service in a statement on late Wednesday.

“The breakthrough… is the result of the effective work of the Ukrainian delegation with the support of our international partners in Berlin and Paris,” the statement read.

“According to the decision, a full and comprehensive ceasefire should be observed from 00:01 on July 27, 2020. The breakthrough in the work of the TCG in this area is the result of the effective work of the Ukrainian delegation with the support of our international partners in Berlin and Paris, as well as the work of political advisers and foreign ministers of the countries participating in the Normandy Format,” the report of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine (TCG) reads.

The TCG is comprised of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE that was formed to facilitate a diplomatic resolution to the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

“I hope that the confirmed measures will bring long-awaited silence in the conflict zone and more peace to the civilian population,” Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), Ambassador Heidi Grau, said after the announcement.

“I call upon the sides, in fulfilment of their obligations, to demonstrate goodwill and reach an early agreement for a new stage of mutual release and exchange of detainees,” Grau added.

The simmering conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014, when Moscow seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and backed the rebellion in the east.

Although major combat ended with a ceasefire agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, sporadic clashes still regularly kill civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and separatists.

Wednesday’s statement said the full and comprehensive ceasefire, if observed by the other party, was a precondition for the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Reaching a full ceasefire was a precondition for a new Ukrainian crisis summit under the so-called ‘Normandy Format, comprising representatives of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia.

The last face-to-face summit of the format held in Paris in December produced some commitments on prisoner exchange, withdrawal of troops and a renewed commitment to implement an existing ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region (Donetsk and Lugansk), as well as enhanced powers for international ceasefire monitors.

The Normandy summit also upheld the so-called ‘Steinmeier formula’ for Eastern Ukraine, named after its author, former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for elections to be held in the separatist-held territories under Ukrainian legislation and the supervision of the OSCE.

According to Ukrainian media reports, the Ukrainian authorities have ruled out the possibility of securing special status for Donbas in the Constitution of Ukraine.

The President’s Office also said that the elections in Donbas could be held only after Ukraine gains control over the border, as well as in accordance with the Constitution and legislation of Ukraine.

'Normandy format' talks on Ukraine to be EU presidency priority, says Germany's Maas

Engaging with Ukraine and Russia will be a priority for Germany during its presidency of the EU Council, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told a meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) while presenting Berlin’s EU Council presidency priorities on Monday (13 July).

Zelenskiy has sought to resolve the conflict since his election last year, arranging a number of prisoner swaps, but Russian-backed troops in the breakaway Donbas region have, however, since March regularly denied access to the OSCE mission monitoring the conflict, while United Nations agencies, NGOs and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had also reportedly faced difficulties in accessing the areas outside government control.

According to Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, such a summit could take place in Berlin as early as August.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas had said in early July that ‘Normandy format’ talks on  resolving the Ukraine crisis will be one of Germany’s EU presidency priorities.

“We want to prepare for the time when we could again talk more intensively about strategic relations with Russia,” Maas told MEPs, but warned that this would require certain preparations and explained that “a solution in Ukraine is needed to change or restore the EU’s strategic relations with Russia.”

Risk still there for Ukraine to become frozen conflict – OSCE chief

Despite recent rapprochement between Ukraine and Russia, the full implementation of the Minsk agreements is still “miles away” and there is still a risk that the separatist regions could turn into another “frozen conflict”, OSCE Secretary-General, Thomas Greminger, said in an interview with EURACTIV.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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