The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine have agreed a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, participants at the summit talks said today.
The deal reached after all-night negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk included a ceasefire that would come into effect on February 15, followed by the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
The news came as Ukraine was offered a $40-billion (about R472 billion) lifeline by the International Monetary Fund to stave off financial collapse.
The Minsk summit agreement offered hope for eastern Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson said.
“After 17 hours, negotiations in Minsk have finished: ceasefire from February 15 at zero hours, then withdrawal of heavy weapons. Therein lies hope,” Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert said on Twitter.
“We have managed to agree on the main issues,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
The four leaders had committed to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration distributed by the Kremlin.
The main thing which has been achieved is that from Saturday into Sunday there should be declared without any conditions at all, a general ceasefire, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told journalists.
French President François Hollande said there was still much work to be done on the Ukraine crisis, but the agreement was a real chance to ameliorate the situation.
He said pro-Russian separatists, who had at one point appeared to reject the deal, had signed up to it.
Merkel and Hollande joined Poroshenko and Putin for a marathon negotiating session that began early yesterday evening and continued into this morning.
The summit discussions came as pro-Moscow separatists tightened the pressure on Kiev by launching some of the war’s worst fighting yesterday, killing 19 Ukrainian soldiers in assaults near the railway town of Debaltseve.
As the fighting escalated, Washington has begun openly talking of arming Ukraine to defend itself from “Russian aggression”, raising the prospect of a proxy war in the heart of Europe between Cold War foes.
The outcome of the Minsk talks is expected to influence discussions at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, when sanctions against Moscow will be on the agenda. A deal would likely mean a softer line towards Moscow.
Merkel and Hollande were expected to arrive late for the Brussels meeting but would urge the European Union to support the Minsk deal.