Ukraine peace deal implementation ‘to be extended into 2016’ – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister

Self-defense fighters of the Luhansk People's Republic seen here during the withdrawal of weapons below 100mm caliber from the contact line in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic. © Valeriy Melnikov
The implementation of the Minsk peace accords that regulate the settlement of the crisis in eastern Ukraine, including the ceasefire, will not be completed this year, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin said.

“It is already clear that they [Minsk peace accords] are to be extended,” Karasin told RIA Novosti Thursday. “A result is what’s important for us in this process, namely, the peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

Karasin said a Normandy format meeting on a foreign minister level is set for the next week. France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are going to discuss crisis settlement progress via a telephone conference.

The peace deal known as the Minsk Agreements was signed on February, 12, and along with the ceasefire envisaged withdrawal of heavy weapons, prisoner swaps, special status for the rebel regions as well as constitutional changes implemented after direct negotiations between Kiev and the two self-proclaimed republics in the country’s east.

On October 2, the leaders of the Normandy Four gathered in Paris where they agreed that in spite of significant progress in the peace process, the Minsk peace accords are unlikely to have been fully implemented by the end of the year as was planned. French President Francois Hollande pointed out the importance of regional elections in Donetsk and Lugansk regions which must be held no later than 80 days after Kiev passes an electoral law.

Leonid Kuchma, the Ukrainian representative in the contact group talks, said Thursday Kiev insists on holding regional elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and OSCE norms and standards. His said recent talks with rebels have not yet yielded any results.

“If troops and illegal armed groups are not withdrawn, if we do not get back our border, how can we speak then about elections?” Kuchma said. “Minsk peace accords do not dictate priorities on this.”

The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR) are in turn accusing Kiev of violating the ceasefire and stalling the peace process.

“A ceasefire per se does not guarantee anything unless there is some political ground under it,” LNR representative to the contact group Vladislav Deinego said as cited by RIA Novosti. He warned that if there is no progress, the contact line between the government and rebel troops may again become a hot spot.

DNR officials accused Kiev of being unable to live up to the amnesty part of the Minsk deal which renders prisoners of war exchanges virtually impossible.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted in spring 2014 after the toppling of then-President Viktor Yanukovich. Over 9,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 injured since then, according to the UN. In spite of the decision of the contact group to comply with the ceasefire during the New Year holidays, the situation appears to be escalating.

“Unfortunately, we have to state that the truce is becoming increasingly more fragile because of frequent provocations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday.

“In this context, an appeal of OSCE envoy to the Contact Group Martin Sajdik for a full ceasefire for the entire period of Christmas and New Year holidays starting with December 23 has become timely,” she added.

“We believe that the ‘silence regime’ in Donbas should not be limited by winter holidays but be indefinite. This is the goal all of us should pursue,” Zakharova concluded.