Ukraine ceasefire agreed after marathon talks

Done deal: German, French and Russian leaders after their 15-hour marathon of negotiations © PA

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany have agreed a ceasefire in Ukraine. How can the fate of millions be determined by a few hours of intensive night-time conversation?

After nearly a year of fighting and 5,000 casualties, the conflict in Ukraine may have been ended — not by guns, but by four politicians in a room in Belarus. Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of Ukraine and Russia respectively, along with the German chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande of France, were locked in talks for 15 hours. For most of the long, tense night, an agreement seemed elusive. Yet when they finally emerged in the morning, they announced that a ceasefire would begin on 15 February.

All weapons will be removed from the areas of Eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are fighting the Ukrainian army. Anyone imprisoned for acts committed in the war will be released, and Ukraine will allow the resumption of normal life in the regions affected. Those are the short-term goals. In the long term, there are promises for more self-government for the largely Russian-speaking regions that have tried to break away from Ukraine.

Angela Merkel has told people not to get too excited, saying this is just a ‘glimmer of hope’. Germany and the EU still insist that Vladmir Putin must not decide the future of Ukraine. There are still unresolved issues, such as the future of Crimea, which Russia annexed last March, and questions over whether Russia should still face sanctions for invading another country and funding armed groups in Ukraine.

Putin, by contrast, sees the West as the aggressors. The conflict began when furious pro-EU demonstrators packed the streets of Kiev protesting against a trade deal with Russia, and European leaders joined the protesters in demanding the President Yanukovych’s resignation. From Russia’s perspective, this amounted to openly encouraging the violent overthrow of the elected government of a country with which Russia has close ties.

These differences seemed irreconcilable even in the final hours of the talks. Then on Thursday morning came the breakthrough, and a ceasefire was announced.

Blessed peacemakers?

Some find it reassuring that amid the chaos of war, there are leaders who have the power to put an end to conflict. Wars are not runaway carts that, having set off, can never be stopped. We should be grateful that our leaders are responsible enough to consider compromise, even if it could have happened earlier.

Others are terrified by how much power is in the hands of so few people. What would happen if, for example, Putin had woken up in a bad mood and been too tetchy to negotiate? At the 1945 Yalta Conference, where the borders of post-WW2 Europe were drawn up, three leaders decided the fate of millions. The Minsk agreement is no different. Power ought to rest with the people.

You Decide

  1. How much power do individual leaders have to change history?
  2. Is compromise the key to resolving any argument?

Activities

  1. Class debate: ‘This House believes Russia is a threat to world peace.’
  2. Research one historical treaty, conference or agreement and make a presentation about it to your class.

Some People Say...

“It’s best not to mess with us.”

Vladimir Putin

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does a conflict on the other side of Europe affect me?
Ukraine lies in a key strategic position between Central Europe (which has largely turned towards the European Union since the fall of communism) and Russia. It has been mainly neutral since it broke away from the Soviet Union, so any changes to its alignment could have a great effect on European politics.
Will the ceasefire hold?
Only time will tell. There have been several halts to the fighting in Ukraine, only for violence to spring up again after just a few days of relative peace. One separatist leader, Aleksandr Zakhtarchenko from Donetsk, has said that the Ukrainian government would be to blame if the ceasefire collapses and, that if that happens, there will ‘be no meetings and no new agreements’.

Word Watch

Petro Poroshenko
The fifth Ukrainian president previously served as a minister under the pro-Western leadership of Viktor Yushchenko. He became president in May 2014.
Eastern Ukraine
Separatist movements have been concentrated in the coal-rich and largely Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, near the Russian border.
Crimea
A mountainous peninsula in the Black Sea which Russia annexed last year. Its population is around 90% Russian-speaking and the Russian navy is based at the port of Sevastopol.
Armed groups
There has been ample evidence of Russia helping the armed insurgency in the east, with manpower, money and weapons.
Pro-EU demonstrators
Among the protesters was a mixture of those arguing for closer ties with the EU, those pushing for an end to corruption in the country and a minority who came from sinister neo-Nazi-style groups.
Yalta Conference
UK Prime Minister Churchill, US President Roosevelt and Russian Premier Stalin met in Crimea to decide Europe’s post-war fate. They effectively agreed the split between capitalist Western Europe and communist Eastern Europe.

Subjects

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