Stumbling blocks in Ukraine peace plan

11th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France are expected to meet Wednesday for a summit on a peace plan to end escalating bloodshed in east Ukraine.

The European initiative aims to revive stillborn September deals between international monitors, Ukraine and Russia and the leaders of the two pro-Moscow rebel regions.

Here are some of the main stumbling blocks for any peace deal to end the 10-month conflict:

- Ceasefire -

The most urgent element of any agreement is to ensure an immediate ceasefire to halt spiralling fighting that has left hundreds of civilians dead in recent days.

Both sides seem willing to agree to a truce but are wrangling over who lays down their arms first and starts pulling back heavy weapons from the frontline.

The rebels and Russia want Kiev to order its forces back and immediately restart budget support for the separatist-held territories. Ukraine demands the immediate closure of a swath of border under rebel control and says financing will only begin again after local elections are held.

- Demarcation line -

One of the major sticking points is whether a demarcation line painstakingly agreed in September is shifted to include some 500 square kilometres (200 square miles) that rebels have seized in recent weeks.

Ukraine is adamant that the previous line must be adhered to but rebel fighters say they will never agree to give up the new ground.

European leaders are hoping that the expansion of a buffer zone could allow them to resolve this problem.

The zone was initially agreed for 30 kilometres (19 miles) but French President Francois Hollande says that could now be expanded to up to 70 kilometres (44 miles).

- Monitors or peacekeepers -

So far the policing of any truce has fallen to hundreds of civilian monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) but they have been unable to enforce the deal.

Proposals are being mooted for a possible international peacekeeping force but Ukraine fiercely opposes the involvement of any contingents from Russia or its close allies.

- Border control -

Ukraine says no long-term solution can be found if it does not regain control of some 400 kilometres of its border with Russia that rebels currently control.

Small groups of OSCE observers have been monitoring the Russian side of the frontier but that has not stopped the reported constant flow of Russian arms and fighters.

- Removing foreign fighters -

A central point of the previous deal was the withdrawal of any foreign military and fighters from Ukrainian soil. This was clearly aimed at Russia, which Kiev accuses of sending in troops and heavy weapons.

Moscow's blanket denials that Russian soldiers are in Ukraine mean that it cannot officially withdraw them. Russia has, however, admitted that "volunteer" fighters, including serving soldiers on leave, have joined the rebels.

- Status of rebel regions -

The previous deal mentioned a vague "special status" for the rebel-held areas. Moscow is pushing for separatist regions to be given a high degree of autonomy, with elections for regional governors.

Kiev argues that the Kremlin just wants to cement the rebels in power and would use them to block the country's pro-Western trajectory.

- Prisoner swaps -

This is one area where the two sides have made some progress with hundreds of prisoners changing hands late last year. Both sides agree on an "all-for-all" format but wrangling over lists of those detained continues.

One obstacle is the demand that Russia free a Ukrainian pilot, Nadia Savchenko, from detention in Moscow. Kiev says Savchenko -- who has been on hunger strike for two months -- was spirited across the Russian border illegally.

- Who signs? -

Ukraine is desperate to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to put his signature on any peace deal -- thereby implicitly admitting the Kremlin's role in the conflict.

So far Moscow has told Kiev to talk directly with the rebels and rejected calls for it to sign a direct agreement with Ukraine.


© 2015 AFP

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