Russia, Ukraine agree on ‘permanent ceasefire’

The conflict in Ukraine, now in its fourth month, could see an end soon as Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko announced a ceasefire agreement on Wednesday.

Poroshenko’s office said the agreement was reached in a telephone exchange that was preceded by a few hours by United States President Barack Obama’s arrival in former Soviet Estonia – a new Nato member nation seeking Western protection from an increasingly belligerent Kremlin.

Leaders from the 28-nation Western military bloc are due to agree in Wales on Thursday on the  creation of a 4 000-strong force that could be deployed within two days to meet any perceived Russian military movements in Eastern Europe. Poroshenko’s stunning announcement came more than four months into conflict that has claimed more than 2 600 lives and plunged relations between Moscow and Kiev’s Western allies to its lowest since the Cold War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko held a telephone exchange “that resulted in an agreement for a permanent ceasefire in Donbass [eastern Ukraine],” the Ukrainian president’s office said in a statement.

“An understanding was reached concerning steps that will help to establish peace,” the  statement said.

But it was not immediately clear if rebel commanders – a loose band of mostly Russian-speakers who have no single leader and have been making sweeping advances in recent days – were ready to either comply or disband.

Russian involvement 
The declared end to hostilities appeared to confirm Western allegations that Putin had a direct hand in the conflict, even though he has denied any role and claimed he was in no position to negotiate on the rebels’ behalf.

Russia, however, openly backs their drive for some form of independence from the pro-Western Ukrainian leaders who rose to power in Kiev after the February ousting of a Moscow-backed administration.

On Wednesday the Kremlin said that Putin and Poroshenko had “exchanged opinions” about the crisis and gave no indication that a breakthrough had been reached.

“The views of the presidents of the two countries about possible ways out of this difficult crisis overlap to a considerable degree,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

The Kremlin also said that, “Russia supports [the] ceasefire but is not party to agreement.”

Unbending NATO support
Obama arrived on Wednesday in Estonia to deliver an emblematic message of unbending Nato support for new members from ex-Soviet nations rattled by Russia’s perceived actions in Ukraine.

The hostile barbs being traded by Moscow and the West in advance of Obama’s visit to Europe hardly heralded the promise of a potentially major agreement being reached on Ukraine.

Obama’s jumbo jet landed in the tiny Baltic nation – ruled for decades by Moscow and still completely reliant on Russian gas – a day after the Kremlin declared Nato a “threat” over its plans to boost defences in Eastern Europe.

The Western military alliance has published satellite images purporting to show more than 1 000 Russian troops and heavy equipment moving into Ukraine’s eastern districts to help separatist fighters push back government forces and establish a ground link with Crimea – a Black Sea peninsula Russia seized from Ukraine in March. 

“Nato has played a leading role and produced ample evidence to indicate that Russia has intervened in ways that grossly violate the territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine,” said White House spokesperson Josh Earnest.

Putin-Poroshenko talks
Putin set warning bells ringing across Eastern Europe even further by telling European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, in a private exchange leaked to the press, that he could capture Kiev in two weeks.

The Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser said Putin’s comments were taken out of context and accused Barroso of breaking diplomatic etiquette by disclosing details of the conversation. Putin had wanted Kiev to grant “statehood” to the heavily ‘Russified’ eastern districts of Lugansk and Donetsk.

Poroshenko however had won elections in May on a vow to quickly finish off the uprising and reunify his culturally-splintered states.

But his negotiating position with both Russia and the insurgents had weakened dramatically in recent days. The government’s forces have in some cases simply abandoned their equipment and left behind old tanks as they cede huge swathes of territory that they had clawed back from the militants at a great cost since April.

Battle for Donetsk
The rebels have claimed capturing hundreds of demoralised Ukrainian soldiers in their recent advance into the 500 000-strong eastern stronghold of Lugansk and the southern and eastern districts of its larger separatist counterpart, Donetsk.

The daily shelling of Donetsk – a city of nearly one million that has seen hundreds of thousands flee – has ended due to the Ukrainian forces’ withdrawal from positions around the strategic city.

Separatist commanders have most recently set their sights on winning back control of the Donetsk airport. They shocked Kiev by pushing government troops from its Lugansk counterpart – the site of both a military airfield and a civilian terminal – on Monday. – AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Dmitry Zaks
Dmitry Zaks
Politics and economics reporter with Agence France-Presse (AFP
Jerome Cartillier
Guest Author

Related stories

The journalist who was shot in cold blood

Ahmed Divela was one of Ghana’s most fearless investigative journalists. This edited excerpt about his killing is from Faces of Assassination

We cannot reform ourselves out of the times we are in

To end racism, we will have to change the structures from which it draws its mandate, and get rid of liberal and right-wing politicians who give it oxygen while we are being asphyxiated

After disastrous Zuma years, Ramaphosa must provide foreign policy clarity

For a country that is guided by ubuntu, South Africa has a record of embarrassing international blunders

Coronavirus dispatches from smalltown America: Part 2

‘It’s hard to imagine Jesus livestreaming the Sermon on the Mount’

What Bernie Sanders needs to learn from black voters in South Africa

Senator Sanders must explicitly demonstrate that a US government that can guarantee universal healthcare is the best path to building long-term black wealth

US presidential campaign 2020: The Democratic conundrum

As Super Tuesday looms, there are five candidates left in the Democratic race. But the party must ensure it selects someone who will be able to defeat incumbent Donald Trump

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Meyiwa murder case postponed amid drama in court

The murder case of Senzo Meyiwa has been postponed to next month after the appearance of the five suspects in the Boksburg magistrate’s court took an unexpected turn

Does the Expropriation Bill muddy the land question even further?

Land ownership and its equitable distribution has floundered. Changes to a section of the constitution and the expropriation act are now before parliament, but do they offer any solution?

Wheeling and dealing for a Covid-19 vaccine

A Covid-19 jab could cost hundreds of rands. Or not. It’s anyone’s guess. Could another pandemic almost a century ago hold clues for handling the coronavirus today?

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday