By Stefan J. Bos
Ukrainian and rebel forces in war-torn eastern Ukraine say they began a "full and comprehensive" ceasefire in hopes to end years of bloodshed.
Official estimates suggest that their six-year conflict over the territory has killed more than 14,000 people.
The conflict erupted after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula. And differences remain over Ukrainians imprisoned there and plans to halt regional elections in eastern Ukraine in 2022.
However, despite these unresolved issues, the leaders of the pro-Russian separatists said they have instructed their troops about the ceasefire and issued a decree banning the use of weapons.
Ukraine's military responded by saying their forces "have begun preparations" for the truce.
And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed in a statement that If upheld, it would "pave the way for implementing other clauses" of the Minsk peace deal. Brokered in 2015 by France and Germany, the Minsk peace plan aims to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists.
President Zelensky's office called the latest truce, "a breakthrough." There have been many ceasefires come and gone in the past. But analyst Bruno Lete, a senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund thinktank, remains hopeful. "I think we should welcome any ceasefire. There is still a de-facto war in eastern Ukraine, with casualties happening almost every day. So, any attempt to put down the weapons is a positive development," he explained.
He admitted there were "dozens of attempts in the past." And that the questions arise why this ceasefire would be successful. "I think a big difference today is that this current ceasefire is linked to international diplomacy. And the "Normandy Format" peace talks. That brings together not only Russia and Ukraine but also Germany and France," Lete insisted.
While both the presidents of Russia and Ukraine praised the ceasefire deal, tensions remained in their phone call Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern over Kyiv's calls to revise the Minsk agreements.
The 2015 deal envisaged that Ukraine could regain control over its border with Russia in the separatist-held regions under conditions. It can only happen after residents in the war-torn areas of eastern Ukraine are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections.
Zelenskiy, who won the 2019 election on promises to end the conflict, wanted Ukraine to get control of its border first before local elections. But Moscow insists the deal should be kept without revisions. Pope Francis has closely followed the situation in Ukraine. He said during his traditional Sunday Angelus in St. Peter's Square that the truce needed to be put into practice, in order to “rebuild confidence and lay the foundations for a reconciliation that is necessary and long-awaited by the people.”