Will Talks in Belarus End Fighting in Ukraine?

    13 February, 2015

    A ceasefire is to take effect Saturday in eastern Ukraine. The ceasefire agreement came this week after all-night talks involving the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany. Yet the leaders admit many details are yet to be worked out. Diplomats add that the agreement left many disputes unresolved.

    About 20 people were killed in fierce fighting in the days leading up to the talks in Belarus. The leaders agreed on a truce between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. During the next two weeks, the opposing sides are to exchange prisoners and withdraw heavy weapons from the battlefield.

    Russia supports the rebels. Russian President Vladimir Putin says the agreement requires them to withdraw to the former ceasefire line. He says Ukrainian forces are to withdraw from the current line, creating a wide, neutral area.

    Mr. Putin spoke to reporters Thursday morning, after the all-night negotiations.

    In his words, "It was not the best night of my life, but it has been a good morning because we have managed to reach a major agreement."

    He said the agreement includes a Ukrainian promise to provide constitutional guarantees of what he called "the rights of the people" in two areas: Donetsk and Luhansk. The rebels have claimed both cities.

    Ukraine's new government has offered substantial self-rule for the two regions. But President Petro Poroshenko said the government will not go as far as Russia and the rebels want.

    The leaders of Germany and France launched this latest effort to end the conflict in Ukraine's east. They did so in an effort to stop the offensive by the rebels and avoid the possibility of United States arms sales to Ukraine.

    French President Francois Hollande said there is agreement on a political settlement of the nearly one-year-old Ukraine crisis. But he said all the details have yet to be negotiated.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded less hopeful. She said the ceasefire agreement gives hope for a solution, but leaves a lot of work to do. She described the agreement as better than none at all.

    Reports say the talks nearly broke down when rebel leaders refused to give up gains their forces had made in recent weeks. But Mr. Hollande said President Putin pressed the separatist leaders to agree.

    At least 5,300 people have been killed in the Ukrainian conflict. On Friday, Ukraine's military reported that 11 soldiers were killed in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

    Yaroslav Voitko is with the International Center for Policy Studies in Kyiv. He says Ukraine is not willing to give the rebels any more territory than they have already captured. The land is said to represent only about a third of what they want.

    "It's not about another kilometer of territory. It's the matter of principle. We will not agree to any further captures of our territories, but some compromise can be reached in the meantime on the ceasefire and stopping hostilities."

    I'm Christopher Cruise.

    This story was reported by VOA Correspondents Al Pessin and Zlatica Hoke. George Grow wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    ceasefire - n. a halt in fighting, usually by agreement

    admit - v. to accept; to admit one's guilt or responsibility

    fierce - adj. extremely strong; strong; angry

    former - adj. earlier in time; not new

    guarantee(s)n. a promise that something will happen

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