Nearly three months after Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine signed a tenuous ceasefire, which has seen repeated violations causing close to 1,000 deaths and the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses since it began, the parties have agreed "in principle" to a renewed peace effort in the separatist-held Luhansk region.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the monitors charged with overseeing the initial September 5 accord, announced the new pact late Monday, which came following a round of secret negotiations.
"All agreed in principle to a total ceasefire along the entire line of contact between Ukrainian Armed Forces and those under control of the (Luhansk People's Republic), to be effective from 5 December," the OSCE said in a statement. "They also agreed that the withdrawal of heavy weapons would start on 6 December."
Jeff Mankoff, a fellow with the Center for Strategic & International Studies Russia and Eurasia program, told VICE News that he is circumspect about the future success of the new agreement, given the near daily violations of the September truce signed in Minsk.
"There are also questions of course about just how much control the parties to this agreement, and the Minsk agreement, have over the various fighters on the ground," he said. "With the various rebel groups, we're talking about a range of official and unofficial and semi-official actors. It's not clear to the extent to which they're going to accept any agreement by the Ukrainian government or separatist leadership."
The new Luhansk agreement also provides for the establishment of another military buffer zone that "will be 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) wide," Luhansk separatist leader Igor Plotnitsky told Ukraine's Interfax news agency.
The talks were reportedly held Saturday as violence and intense shelling in the east, particularly in the industrial heartland of Donetsk, continued over the weekend and into Monday.
This footage shows Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) militants firing Grad rockets near an apartment complex.
The new agreement reportedly coincided with talks for a broader truce agreement in the region that also encompasses Donetsk, where heavy fighting around the airport and surrounding territories has raged for several weeks.
Ukraine's military said it negotiated a temporary truce with a top Russian general in the area Monday, according to the AFP, but hours later, reported shelling around the airport, effectively dashing any hopes for peace near the embattled air space.
"There was a lull at Donetsk airport during the day," the Ukrainian military said in a statement, following the peace talks, "the terrorists resumed attacks on the [airport] terminals."
The Ukraine conflict, which pits Kiev with Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine's east who are seeking to establish closer ties with Moscow, has according to the UN so far killed more than 4,300 people and displaced more than 920,000 residents, some of whom have sought refuge in Russia and abroad.
Early in November, the rebels also held their own leadership elections that established militia leaders as "prime ministers" of the two self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine has refused to acknowledge the votes, while Russia said the ballot should be respected.
Kiev and the West have repeatedly accused Moscow of inflaming tensions by supplying the separatists with weapons and conducting its own military buildup in the region. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry joined with NATO foreign ministers in condemning Russia's "continued and deliberate destabilization" in Ukraine and the broader serious "implications for the stability and security of the entire Euro-Atlantic area."
In a statement, the ministers also announced the establishment of so-called trust funds to boost Ukraine's military, which would be used for a cyber defense, operational for logistics and rehabilitation of wounded fighters, and other needs, according to the Associated Press.
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