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16/02 -Ceasefire ‘holds’ in Ukraine, but is fragile

Many newspapers report that the fighting in eastern Ukraine dropped in intensity yesterday, as the truce agreed upon last Thursday in Minsk was enforced. Despite occasional explosions around the contested town of Debaltseve, the ceasefire by and large seems to be in effect, many note, and the OSCE, France and Germany confirmed that the ceasefire was “mostly holding.” In general, the ceasefire is seen as a positive but still very unstable step towards the right direction.

On Slovak TV station STV1, EC Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič however highlighted that the ceasefire was “extremely fragile” and warned that we might have to deal with a major conflict if the situation worsens. Many newspapers report on the situation in Debaltseve, mostly arguing that the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine will not hold as long as underlying tensions in the region remain unresolved. Eesti Päevaleht comments that Debaltseve has become an analogy for the Donetsk airfield: the Kiev government has contributed significantly into holding the town, but Russian-supported separatists have no intention of drawing back. Even if the ceasefire holds everywhere else, Debaltseve holds a lot for Ukraine, and losing it would be a moral blow for Kiev, which may result in unpredictable political results, the newspaper explains. In spite of encouraging first days, Debalteseve could well cause the “fragile” ceasefire to fail, Le Figaro sums up.

As an extended list of people prohibited from entering the EU comes into effect today, several media like LRT report that European Union leaders do not reject the possibility of tighter sanctions against Russia if it does not maintain the truce. Discussion on new sanctions will be held in March. Several press items continue to comment upon the Minsk II agreement. In Die Welt, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Grzegorz Schetyna says he is content with Minsk II but cautions that “patience” is now needed to see if it will be implemented. He notes the EU’s stance towards Russia is “unified”, but regards the current situation in Ukraine as NATO’s and the EU’s greatest challenge since the early 1990s.

Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger highlights in FAZ the shift in power in the EU, arguing that several years ago, the fact that Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande instead of representatives of EU institutions negotiated directly with Russia might have been criticised. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, High Representative of the Union Vice-President Federica Mogherini specifies she was not “excluded” from the negotiations on Ukraine. “Teamwork” and results are essential, she stressed, adding that the Minsk agreement is a common achievement of the EU as a whole.

El País adds that the Franco-German initiative for peace in eastern Ukraine has meant an endorsement for Berlin’s more active role in Europe’s foreign policy, underpinning a new orientation of Germany in spite of its usual internal reluctance to lead the EU in international affairs. Meanwhile, Les Echos mentions that the Ukraine-Europe association agreement will be renegotiated beginning on March 3 to include the Russian worries, noting that the European Commission will be represented by European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström.

In Les Echos, Dominique Moïsi argues that only “one course of action stands out, and it is economic: “this is where our comparative advantage lies,” he writes. Seeing how a cold war climate is returning, he argues that “for its own safety, Europe needs to endorse Ukraine” and “consolidate” the country. Le Figaro reports that in the meantime, the next step in the negotiations will be the withdrawal of heavy weapons in a 50 km area both sides of the front, to begin this Tuesday. ©EuropeanUnion2015

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