Maybe, but if so, it’s probably not good news for Kyiv and Petro Poroshenko. After NATO’s saber-rattling earlier today and Russia’s response, both sides in the rebellion have at least paid lip service to a cease-fire in place. A week or so ago, that may have favored Ukraine, but the recent surge with Russian backing — if not troops — may mean that rebels can use the pause to consolidate their recent gains:
Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels appeared increasingly close to signing a deal to end four months of fighting, as NATO leaders expressed support for Ukraine at a NATO summit Thursday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he’s ready to order a cease-fire in the east Friday if a peace deal is signed that day at talks in Minsk, Belarus. The rebels also said they were ready to declare a truce Friday if an agreement with Ukraine is reached on a political settlement for the mostly Russian-speaking region.
Poroshenko discussed the outlines of a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, and they both voiced optimism about reaching an agreement in Minsk.
If offered a cease-fire, Poroshenko would have a tough time saying no anyway. He said as much today:
Reuters says it’s all but a done deal:
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the main pro-Russian rebel leader said they would both order ceasefires on Friday, provided that an agreement is signed on a new peace plan to end the five month war in Ukraine’s east. …
“At 1400 local time (7.00 a.m. EDT on Friday), provided the (Minsk) meeting takes place, I will call on the General Staff to set up a bilateral ceasefire and we hope that the implementation of the peace plan will begin tomorrow,” he told reporters.
Alexander Zakharchenko, head of the main rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, said in a statement his men would also order a ceasefire, from one hour later, provided that Kiev’s representatives signed up to a peace plan at the Minsk meeting.
There have been local agreements to hold fire, for example during the recovery of bodies from a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel territory in July, but Thursday’s announcements were the first time the two sides have called for a full truce.
Russia has more than a passing interest in the cease-fire, too, even apart from its attempt to force its hegemony on Kyiv. The French government won’t hand over the warship built for Russia while the conflict continues:
The French president said Thursday the delivery of a controversial warship to Russia was conditional on “a ceasefire and political settlement” being agreed in Ukraine, as the West pushed for peace talks with threats of more sanctions against Moscow.
Speaking at a NATO summit in the UK on Thursday, François Hollande said the Russian procurement contract for two Mistral-class helicopter carriers was not cancelled, but the delivery of the first ship scheduled next month could be delayed. “What are the conditions? A ceasefire and a political settlement,” he said. “Today these conditions are not in place.”
At the summit in Newport, FRANCE 24’s Armen Georgian noted that the contractual delivery of the ship was not up until November 1st. “The French are keeping a bit of margin for manouevre for the next two months to see if any progress is made on a ceasefire,” he said.
The sale of the ship still sends a rather strange signal while NATO attempts to bluff Moscow out of eastern Ukraine. It’s the kind of warship that Russia would inevitably use if the conflict restarts and widens, which would put France in the position of providing the rope with which Vladimir Putin would hang Europe.
As for the truce agreement, it would almost certainly lead to a loss of some sovereignty in the east for Ukraine. That has been the goal of Putin all along, and the Ukrainians’ nightmare. It may not be as much territory as Russia and its “rebel” fronts expected or hoped to gain, but it will almost certainly be a significant encroachment. The Financial Times reports on the broad strokes, and the efforts going on now to broaden them even further:
But it was not clear if any ceasefire would hold or be observed by all forces on both sides, and elements of the plan disclosed so far would do little to address the underlying causes of the Ukraine conflict.
The ceasefire plan would leave rebel leaders in control of the two east Ukrainian cities and territory around them. That could undermine Mr Poroshenko’s attempts to stabilise the country and provoke political opposition in Kiev.
Even as the statements were being made, moreover, rebels said to be backed by regular Russian forces were reportedly shelling the outskirts of Mariupol, in southeast Ukraine, ahead of a potential attempt to seize the city.
Analysts suggested rebels might be attempting to secure the strategically important city on the coast of the Sea of Azov, before any ceasefire began.
Poroshenko doesn’t have much choice, though. If Russia pushes forward in full, Ukraine might be hard pressed to hold Kyiv. The West is clearly not going to ride to his rescue, and this may be all he can salvage. We’ll see if it’s enough to keep the government in Kyiv in place.