Putin: Cease-fire deal reached for Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin says an agreement has been reached on a cease-fire for eastern Ukraine beginning February 15 at midnight.

The announcement followed marathon, all-night talks in the Belarusian capital between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.

No other details of the cease-fire deal were immediately available.

The summit was hastily assembled late last week, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande hand-carried a peace plan to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

The French president, speaking Sunday, described the Minsk summit as “one of the last chances” for reaching peace in strife-torn eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have battled Ukraine forces for the past 10 months. At least 5,400 people have been killed in the fighting, with thousands more wounded.

The negotiations are thought to have centered on reviving a cease-fire, which was originally agreed to in September but which quickly broke down. There are also disagreements over the withdrawal of weapons from the conflict area and the degree to which the region will be granted autonomy.

The summit is taking place against the backdrop of intense fighting in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, described by witnesses as some of the most intense and deadly combat yet seen in the conflict.

Witnesses on Wednesday in the eastern city of Donetsk said at least two people died when a shell hit a bus station. Separately, Ukraine officials said rebel attacks near Debaltseve killed at least 19 soldiers and wounded 78 others.

Ahead of Wednesday’s summit, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said his government and the European Union would speak “with one voice.”  He also said he would not hesitate to introduce martial law throughout the country if the conflict escalates.

The commander of the U.S. Army in Europe said Russian military forces are directly involved in the fighting in the Debaltseve area.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, speaking Wednesday in Poland, said “direct Russian military intervention” in Debaltseve is “very obvious.” He based his statement on the amount of ammunition and the types of military hardware used by rebels trying to encircle the eastern city of 26,000 residents.

President Barack Obama said Monday he will await the outcome of the ongoing summit before deciding whether to supply Kyiv with lethal defensive weaponry in its fight to end the separatist uprising.

Source: VOANews.com

(Photo: kremlin.ru)