The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany have signed up to a peace plan after lengthy talks, raising hopes that the brutal conflict in eastern Ukraine could be brought to a close.
Despite the hopes, some European leaders have voiced skepticism — after all, a previous peace plan agreed to in September disintegrated amid continued fighting.
So now the leaders have struck a new deal in Minsk, Belarus, what happens next?
Run-up to the ceasefire
Between now and Saturday night, we can expect to see continued fighting in eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and separatist forces.
Under the terms of the agreement, the ceasefire line for the Ukrainians is the current front line and for the separatists it’s the front line as it was at the time of the previous deal on September 19. This represents a territorial gain for the separatists since September.
The separatists may seek to make a push over the next 2½ days to try to win more territory. It’s not clear what will happen in the strategically important town of Debaltseve, where rebel fighters currently have Ukrainian forces almost surrounded after days of fierce fighting.
Ceasefire comes into effect
An “immediate and comprehensive” ceasefire is due to come into effect from midnight Saturday into Sunday local time.
Withdrawal of heavy weapons
The withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides should begin no later than the next day after the ceasefire (Monday), according to the agreement. It should take no longer than 14 days.
The Ukrainian forces must pull back their artillery of 100 millimeters or greater caliber by 25 kilometers (15½ miles) from the current front line, while the separatists must withdraw their artillery the same distance behind the front line as of September 19. This should create a demilitarized zone at least 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide between the two sides.
A wider division — 70 or 140 kilometers — is required for certain specified weapons with a longer range.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is tasked with helping with and monitoring the withdrawal of the heavy weapons — but it’s not clear how this will play out.
If the withdrawal of heavy weapons is successful, then local elections should be held in separatist-held areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Dialogue on this should start the day after the withdrawal. A change in the Ukrainian constitution is expected to make this possible, along with reforms to give the region greater autonomy.
If all this happens, then the Ukrainian government may be able to take back control of its border with Russia in separatist-held areas by the end of the year.
The release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held prisoners should be completed no more than five days after the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the agreement states.
Speaking after the agreement was announced in Minsk, French and German leaders made clear that it was not perfect but said it was better than taking no action.
Much of the finer detail remains to be worked out and this could prove to be where the agreement founders.
Alexey Pushkov, head of the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, acknowledged this, tweeting: “Minsk talks have reached their goal. Now it’s all about following the agreement: tensions are very likely. The key is in implementation.’
Implementing a political deal will always be harder on the ground, where emotions run high. Persuading fighters to surrender territory they have lost comrades to gain may not be easy.