Heavy arms withdrawal in Ukraine nears completion


EPA/Valentina Svistunova

EPA/Valentina Svistunova

The situation still remains tense, but a ceasefire agreement for both sides now seems a real possibility


Signs of peace are beginning to emerge in eastern Ukraine. Although the war is by no means over, the guns are going silent.

According to Ukraine’s president, both sides have withdrawn most of their heavy weapons, one of the requirements of an agreed upon ceasefire, although both the rebel and government forces continue to accuse each other of stalling and failing to comply with the rest of the agreement.

Rebel forces have also been accused of obstructing monitors sent to verify the withdrawal of heavy weaponry.

President Petro Poroshenko has said that government forces will keep some of their heavy weaponry near the airport of the rebel controlled city of Donetsk, a combat hotspot.

Nonetheless, the progress made between the two sides in recent high-level peace talks has left many people optimistic of a definitive end to the bloody conflict that has killed over 6,000 people and displaced nearly 1.8 million, most of whom have fled for Russia.

The arms pullback is being watched by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE has condemned both sides for a lack of cooperation.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military, has said that government forces are ready to return their heavy weaponry quickly should the need arise.

“In order not to put our servicemen at risk on the front line, there is some artillery positioned not far away … in case of necessity, they will be brought back,” said Lysenko.

Under the agreement, reached February 12th in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, both government and rebel forces are to have their heavy weapons pulled back by 25 to 70 kilometres from the front line, depending on their caliber.

Unfortunately, both sides have been accused of not fully committing to their promises.

A representative of the armed rebel forces accused the Ukrainian government of being behind schedule. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has in turn accused rebel forces of making a “sham” out of their ceasefire agreement.

“[The rebels] constantly bar the OSCE monitoring mission access to the withdrawal process,” said Klimkin after a meeting with top security officials.

A report released by the OSCE last week contends that both sides have obstructed their efforts to monitor the arms withdrawal. It cites a number of incidents where both sides ordered monitors to stop following retreating arms teams.

Regardless, the 485 kilometre frontline has seen a near complete halt of artillery exchanges, a sign that things could very well be moving in the right direction. There are still instances of small skirmishes without heavy weaponry though throughout the front.

A Ukrainian news agency reported last week that rebel forces have violated the cease-fire agreement 12 times since it was put into effect.

Fighting continues to rage around the city of Donetsk, the rebel forces stronghold, with smaller skirmishes in surrounding towns.

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