Ukraine: Russia backs 7-day unilateral ceasefire plan

Visiting Kiev, foreign ministers of Germany and France announce Russia’s commitment on behalf of separatist leaders.

Joint press conference of the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Ukraine in Kiev.
Russia denies claims that it helps Ukraine's separatists [Alexander Ermochenko/EPA]

Russia has accepted a unilateral seven-day ceasefire in Ukraine on behalf of the separatist leaders that it has been backing for the past two years.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, made the announcement on Wednesday in Kiev where he has been holding talks with the Ukrainian president.

“Today we came here with the news that with a commitment from Moscow, which reached us yesterday, starting tonight there will be a ceasefire on the part of the separatists, to start with for seven days, beginning at midnight,” he said.

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Visiting Kiev with his German counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, said an attempt to revive a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine from midnight could set the scene for agreement next week on further peace moves.

Ayrault said he also expected both sides to sign an agreement next week to withdraw their troops from the lines of conflict in three hotspots.

“In the next week we see an opportunity for a new dynamic in the conflict,” Ayrault said.

A ceasefire was launched to coincide with the start of the school year on September 1.

It failed to stop all fighting.

“We are again at a crossroads,” Steinmeier announced on Wednesday.

“We see a small sliver of hope in the back-to-school ceasefire … but it is not enough.”

If the ceasefire holds and the agreement is signed as expected, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia could meet in New York next week on the sidelines of a meeting of the UN General Assembly.

France and Germany helped broker the 18-month-old Minsk peace deal [Anastasia Sirotkina/Reuters]
France and Germany helped broker the 18-month-old Minsk peace deal [Anastasia Sirotkina/Reuters]

That could prepare the way for a meeting of the leaders of the four “Normandy format” countries for the first time since October 2015.

The “Normandy format” is a set-up approved in France during the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing in 2014.

“The presence of Jean-Marc and Frank-Walter here in Kiev is evidence that the Normandy format works, that we must together force Russia to implement the Minsk agreements,” Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said.

France and Germany helped broker the 18-month-old Minsk peace deal. Many of its key points, such as holding regional elections and returning control of Ukraine’s border with Russia to Kiev, have long been stalled.

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“We understand that to implement the Minsk agreements, to force Russia to implement them, we need a clear idea of the sequence of steps and guarantees of their implementation from Russia,” he said.

Russia denies accusations by Ukraine and NATO that it helps the separatists with troops and arms in a rebellion in which over 9,500 people have been killed since spring 2014.

Ayrault and Steinmeier emphasised their support for Ukraine and their rejection of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.

Steinmeier said that as  the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. did not recognise the annexation, it would not send observers to Russian parliamentary elections planned in Crimea on Sunday.

Making his own separate trip to Kiev, Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, said on Wednesday it was crucial for the West to maintain sanctions against Russia.

“Clearly it’s up to the Russians primarily to make progress on the security side,” he said.

“But it’s up to all sides I think in this conversation to make progress together.”

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies