Peace deal for Eastern Ukraine ‘offers just a glimmer of hope’

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The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany have emerged from marathon talks to announce a comprehensive peace deal for eastern Ukraine.

Guns will fall silent, heavy weapons will pull back from the front, and Ukraine will trade a broad autonomy for the east to get back control of its Russian border by the end of this year under the deal hammered out in all-night negotiations.

However, the deal is full of potential pitfalls that could derail its implementation.

In announcing the plan, Russia and Ukraine differed over what exactly they had agreed to in marathon 16-hour talks, including the status of a key town now under rebel siege.

Russian president Vladimir Putin told reporters that the agreement envisages a ceasefire beginning on Sunday as well as a special status for Ukraine’s separatist regions and provisions to address border concerns and humanitarian issues.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said there was no agreement on any autonomy or federalisation for eastern Ukraine, a long-time demand of Russia, which wants that to maintain leverage over Ukraine and prevent it from ever joining Nato.

The deal, however, requires the Ukrainian parliament to give wide powers to the eastern regions as a condition for restoring Ukraine’s full control over its border with Russia – a provision certain to trigger heated political debate in Kiev.

Uncertainty remains even on the ceasefire, as Mr Putin admitted that he and Mr Poroshenko disagreed on the situation at a key eastern flashpoint, the government-held town of Debaltseve.

“We now have a glimmer of hope,” said German chancellor Angela Merkel, who brokered the talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk together with French president Francois Hollande.

“But the concrete steps of course have to be taken, and we will still face major obstacles. But, on balance, I can say what we have achieved gives significantly more hope than if we had achieved nothing.”

More than 5,300 people have died since April in the fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and government troops. Battles continued to rage even as the talks went on.

Mr Putin said: “We have managed to agree on the main things despite all the difficulties of the negotiations.”