17:48 Sep. 22, 2016
Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists agreed on September 21 to withdraw troops from three frontline villages in eastern Ukraine
On Wednesday, September 21, the Trilateral Contact Group working on the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine has reached a framework agreement on withdrawing troops and weapons from the three villages along the demarcation line in Donbas.
The document was hailed as a breakthrough after many months of negotiations held in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
The deal bans troops from both sides from entering the three areas each of which comprises four square kilometers (1.5 square miles).
The head of Ukraine delegation in the security working subgroup, former Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Ukraine, Yevhen Marchuk disclosed the details of the newly-minted deal in an interview with ‘Apostrophe' news outlet.
Mr. Marchuk, what happened in Minsk on September 21?
- A very important framework agreement was signed. If it is implemented, fairly and strictly, a peace process of an entirely new quality will start. We are talking about the pullout of military units with armored vehicles and small arms. All this will be withdrawn on both sides of the front line. To implement these plans, three sites on the contact line were selected.
- What are these sites?
- These are Stanytsia Luhanska in the Luhansk region, as well as Zolote and Petrovske in the Donetsk region. They will comprise an area of four square kilometers each. In addition, each side should withdraw their units at one kilometer distance from the line of contact. With regard of Stanytsia Luhanska, at first we wanted to extend this zone to the state border. The talks were held in two rounds, but, unfortunately, it did't work, so we stopped working on such a scheme. These three areas are just the beginning. There are four more to be agreed at the next round of negotiations. If the first experience is successful, there will be a dozen or two more in order to gradually complete the process of withdrawal of forces along the whole front line, which is 426 km.
- And on what basis the first three areas were chosen?
- All of them are important from the humanitarian point of view. For example, there is a crossing point a blown up bridge in Stanytsia Luhanska. It is a huge problem for locals, many of them are elderly. Being difficult to walk accross this bridge, because there is always danger of falling.
Or, for example, Zolote. There is also a crossing point, but it does'nt work often because of the shelling. If the shelling stopped, this would relieve other checkpoints.
Now heavy weapons are mainly withdrawn to the 15 km in both directions, but snipers, infantry vehicles and heavy machine guns are shooting ... But if we could take all these guns away, then people would be able to enjoy real silence.
What is the mechanism of implementation of the framework decision?
- The process is quite complicated. It involves a preparatory stage. Parties should clearly show the OSCE representatives, where their units are now and where they will be removed to later. OSCE representatives have, in their turn, record and verify it very carefully. Withdrawal should be done symmetrically, that is - at the same time and the same distance, and always under the supervision of the OSCE.
Block up of violations is also provided for. Generally, violations, of course, are of a military nature, for example, someone started shooting, but as a result of a three-month work and numerous approvals, we have written down absolutely all types of violations, including those of non-military nature. It goes about the presence of unauthorized persons in a certain zone, obstructing the work of the OSCE, when they are not allowed to get to the object, wherever they want and whenever they want.
We clearly defined the responsibilities of all parties and that needs to be done in the case of any violations. It was done for the first time, and this is very important. The OSCE undertook a commitment to monitor the situation round the clock. That is to say, we will know for sure who exactly and when the agreement has been broken.
- When will the withdrawal process start?
- The agreement includes the withdrawal schedule, the sides have to complete it in 13 days. I think the pullback should start this week.
- Do you have confidence that this agreement will be implemented? We saw many attempts to establish ceasefire in Donbas before, but firing started again and again?
- There is hope. Because all parties are interested in the successful implementation of the agreement at these three sites. After all, as I've said, they are not of a military, but solely of a humanitarian importance. That is why we say that if we can carry it out, it will set a precedent and will be an example that the warring parties in Donbas can be disengaged. At the same time, we understand that there are no the ideal situations, the state of war persists and distrust is still very high.
- Who specifically signed the framework agreement?
- Leonid Kuchma - from Ukraine, Martin Sajdik - from the OSCE, Boris Gryzlov – from Russia. Zakharchenko and Plotnitskiy [leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk self-proclaimed republics] confirmed through their representatives Pushilin and Deynego that they will also put their signatures under the document.