Minsk: Putin announces cease-fire agreement for Ukraine

MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday that a cease-fire agreement in Ukraine has been reached.

Putin said the truce would go into effect at midnight Saturday, following nearly 17 hours of negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, involving the Russian president, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and representatives from the separatists from Ukraine's Donbass region.

"We agreed on, in my opinion, a lot. Firstly, we agreed to a cease-fire from zero hundred hours from Feb. 15,” Putin told Russian media.

"The second point is the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact with Ukrainian troops and the establishment of the (buffer) line marked in September of last year."

All hostages are to be released within 19 days of the cease-fire, all heavy weaponry will be pulled back and a 30-mile (50-kilometer) wide buffer zone will be established between the two sides in Ukraine.

Putin also said there would be a need for "constitutional reform, which should take into account the legitimate rights of the people living in the territory of Donbass."

He said other points to be agreed on included the need to "resolve border issues in coordination with the militia of the Donbass -humanitarian issues, the implementation ... of the previously adopted law on the special status of these territories; Donetsk and Lugansk."

French President Hollande sounded an optimistic tone on the agreement. "We reached a comprehensive political solution, it's a relief for Europe and gives hope to Ukraine.

"Myself and the chancellor are committed to verifying the implementation of this process," he said, but added there were still "unresolved issues".

The German Chancellor's spokesman Steffen Seibert said: "We expect that, at this particularly delicate stage - until the cease-fire takes effect, both sides will refrain from doing anything that could jeopardize today’s agreements."

He added: "Today's agreement is not a comprehensive solution, and certainly it represents no breakthrough.

"However, after weeks-long violence, Minsk II could now be a step forward that can lead us from a military escalation spiral to a new political momentum. For such an opportunity the effort was worth it."

In Washington, the White House said the agreement "represents a potentially significant step toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty."

"The true test of today’s accord will be in its full and unambiguous implementation, including the durable end of hostilities and the restoration of Ukrainian control over its border with Russia," spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.  

Merkel and Hollande are expected to seek the approval of the European Union to back the deal later Thursday.

Both leaders of the separatist regions said their representatives in Minsk had signed the agreement. 

"All of the points require additional approvals; therefore - in the case of any violation - there will be no new memorandums or meetings,” said Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

Negotiations in the Belarusian capital began Wednesday evening and lasted through the night. 

The conflict is believed to have killed at least 5,300 people since April, injured 12,200 and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

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