The Ukraine ceasefire deal agreed on Thursday appears little more than a sticking plaster that will allow Kiev and Ukraine rebels to wind down the fighting but leaves thorny questions on resolving the conflict unanswered, analysts said.
Some 16 hours of talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk -- which saw one reporter collapse with high blood pressure as negotiations continued through Wednesday night -- produced an agreement on a ceasefire to take effect from today and the withdrawal of troops.
The deal -- overseen by president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko -- staves off an immediate threat of Washington beginning to supply weapons to Kiev but is no guarantee that fighting will not resume in the future, analysts said.
The agreement signed by Kiev and rebels left many of the trickiest issues unresolved: the depth of decentralisation, control of the Ukraine-Russia border and the size of the separatist regions to be given autonomy.
“It is unclear how a long-term solution will come out of today’s agreements,” Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, told AFP.
“It is impossible to expect a serious long-term solution to this problem until it becomes clear how the political situation will develop in Kiev and what ties there will be between Russia and the West.”
Petrov compared the deal, agreed with the support of German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande in Minsk, to an earlier truce accord that was agreed there in September which was widely flouted.
Arming debate in US
The deal at least “reduces the probability of the US and other Western countries supplying Ukraine with defensives weapons,” said chief economist Holger Schmieding of German bank Berenberg.
Observers have warned that if Washington gets involved militarily, a regional conflict that has claimed more than 5,300 lives could enter a dangerous new stage and become a proxy war between Russia and the West.
But Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the US debate about arming Kiev was unlikely to die down.
“The voices on the Hill in support of arming Ukraine are likely to grow louder and more assertive if as I fear...this agreement does not deliver on what everybody wants it to deliver on.”
Schmieding said that even if Moscow and rebels honour the agreement, the deal still allows them to overrun the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve. “Russia has the edge on the ground.”
Speaking after the talks, Putin -- who managed to leave without signing anything -- indicated that fighting near Debaltseve was a key sticking point in the negotiations.
The rebels have encircled up to 8,000 Ukrainians troops and expect them to lay down arms, he said. The Ukrainian army denied the claim.
Security analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said both sides could use a breathing space and in any case the fighting on the ground will become difficult during a spring thaw.
“It was impossible for rebels to advance further without Russia sharply ramping up its intervention and the use of aviation,” he told AFP.
“It’s not a good time to fight right now. It’s beginning to thaw.”
“Things will grind to a halt until the summer or later spring when the ground dries out -- then hostilities will resume and intensify.”
Analysts said that upcoming political and economic events both in Russia and Ukraine will serve as a bellwether indicating the conflict’s future direction.
“It’s a very fragile equilibrium,” said Petrov. “It depends what happens first -- a large-scale political and economic crisis in Ukraine or whether Russia will weaken under Western sanctions and will face problems at home.”
Source: Daily Monitor