By Laura Mills, Wall St. Journal, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2015
KIEV, Ukraine—Ukrainian negotiators and Russia-backed rebels [sic] in the country’s east agreed to withdraw small-caliber weapons from front-line positions, in the latest potential step toward ending a conflict that has claimed almost 8,000 lives.
According to the agreement, reached late Tuesday in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, both sides would have to withdraw small-caliber weapons from the so-called line of contact. That would be another step toward implementing a peace deal signed in the same city in February, which began with a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.[Associated Press reports: “The deal reached Tuesday in Minsk, Belarus, by the so-called Minsk-2 Contact Group calls for tanks, artillery and also mortars up to 120 mm to be pulled back at least 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the frontline, OSCE negotiator Martin Sajdik said.”–New Cold War.org]
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has ebbed in recent weeks as Moscow escalates its military involvement in Syria. The last recorded death from fighting of a Ukrainian soldier was on Sept. 8.
Both sides, as well as the international community, have hailed the recent progress—although past attempts to halt the fighting have eventually fallen apart.
“It is my hope that this is a step toward peace, normalization, and stabilization,” said Etrugul Apakan, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission in the region, said of the latest agreement.
Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces, said the government was certainly interested in de-escalating the conflict in the east. “But we understand clearly that the war will only end when all the points of the Minsk agreement are implemented,” he said, “including giving back control of the Ukraine-Russia border.”
Under the February agreement, Kiev must devolve greater autonomy to the rebel regions, while the rebels have to hold fair local elections and give Ukraine back full control over its border with Russia.
Each side has balked at certain elements of the plan, and have often pointed the finger at the other side in justifying delays.
Ukraine says it will only put forward a final vote on amending the constitution to grant more power to the regions at the end of the year, while rebels have said they are pressing ahead with plans for local elections [Oct 18 in Donetsk, Nov. 1 in Lugansk] that Kiev has condemned as illegal.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, called the agreement positive and said Moscow viewed it with “cautious optimism,” according to Interfax news agency.
“This could mean the end of the war, in my opinion,” rebel leader Denis Pushilin told Interfax. But Mr. Pushilin condemned what he called the lack of progress toward a political resolution of the conflict, which he said “could drag on for decades.”
Negotiators reach deal on weapons withdrawal in east Ukraine, by Yuras Karmanau, Associated Press, in Minsk, Belarus, Sept 30, 2015
Comment by Wall St. Journal reader Valery Polk:
Re “But we understand clearly that the war will only end when all the points of the Minsk agreement are implemented,” he [Ukrainian representative Vladislav Seleznev] said, “including giving back control of the Ukraine-Russia border.”
Kiev regime leaders must think they are the smartest guys in the room. Minsk-2 specifies sequence of what has to happen not just a list. And it is clearly written that constitutional autonomy, amnesty, local elections and restoration of economic ties must be implemented before border control returns to normal, in fact this is the last step.
Follow-up comment by Valery Polk:
Ukraine’s position is even worse, they have to stop the war asap and stop posturing. The sooner they recognize the fait accompli in Donbass, the better off everyone will be on both sides. Militarily they lost, time to move on.