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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BRUSSELS/KIEV/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– The United States and the European Union have expressed caution about a new Ukraine peace agreement reached during talks in Minsk between the Russian, Ukrainian, French and German leaders. Thursday’s accord includes a ceasefire starting Sunday, followed by the withdrawal of weapons, the establishment of a demilitarized zone and the exchange of prisoners.
Washington and Brussels have made clear that a ceasefire must be respected before any scaling back of sanctions against Russia can be considered.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration said the Ukraine peace deal that was reached after 16 hours of negotiations may give to much to Russia and the pro-Russian rebels.
The White House just called it a “potentially significant step” and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there is still a long road ahead before achieving peace and the full restoration of Ukraine sovereignty.”
But American officials said any action on lethal aid to Ukraine or new sanctions against Russia is on hold, at least for the moment, while keeping current measures in place.
European Union leaders expressed caution as well. During a summit in Brussels, French President Francois Hollande said it was “important to keep up the pressure”, while EU President Donald Tusk concluded that the “trust in the goodwill of Russian President Vladimir Putin is limited”.
That skepticism is shared by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. “It were very difficult negotiations and we expect a very difficult implementation process,” he said.
“Ukraine has always been very responsible in the implementation of the Minsk agreement, unlike the other sides. That is also why I arrived in Brussels to coordinate our next steps with the European Union partners.”
But in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, supporters of the leadership expressed concern during an anti-war rally.
Tatjana Demchenko, a representative of the separatist community in Donetsk. remains doubtful.
“I simply don’t believe Poroshenko, he is not the kind of person you can trust,” She said. Another woman agrees saying, “We will see if there will be a ceasefire or not. History shows, and you saw it with your own eyes, the kind of ceasefires we have had.”
Dozens of people have died in recent days on all sides.
The EU has a Monday deadline to decide whether to impose travel restrictions and asset freezes on 19 more Russians and separatists as well as nine entities, pending the situation on the ground.
Hours later on Tuesday, February 17, Russian President Putin is expected in Budapest for talks with Hungary’s government. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been under Western and even domestic pressure to distance himself from Russia, amid concerns over his opposition to sanctions and a multi-billion dollar deal with Moscow over the extension of Hungary’s only nuclear plant.
Moscow denies Western claims that it supports the rebels with weapons and troops, though the Kremlin admits Russian volunteers are in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine also received a financial boost: The International community agreed to give it a new bailout deal with 17.5 billion dollars, that could climb to around 40 billion dollars with lenders such a Europe, the United States and Worldbank.