Ukraine crisis: 'Hope for agreement' as leaders talk through night in Minsk

European leaders are trying to reach a deal on how to peacefully end fighting in eastern Ukraine

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The Independent Online

There is hope for a peace deal in Ukraine as diplomatic talks in Minsk ran through the night, a source has told the Reuters news agency.

The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, as well as the French President François Hollande and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the Belarussian capital to try to agree a way to end fighting in east Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists that has so far killed more than 5,000 people.

Mr Poroshenko yesterday dismissed a proposal for greater autonomy for the eastern regions of Ukraine, put forward by Mr Putin, Mr Hollande and Ms Merkel. “Ukraine has always been and always will be a unified state... federalisation is a seed that will not take root in Ukrainian soil,” he said.

A Ukrainian delegation source claimed the leaders were preparing to sign a joint declaration supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

A separate document would also be prepared by the three-way “contact group” comprising Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, affirming commitment to a ceasefire plan drawn up in Minsk last September and also signed by separatist leaders, the source said.

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Hope for an enduring settlement have been mired with doubt, with advancing rebels unlikely to agree to halt and go back to previous positions.

But Moscow none the less expressed optimism, with a Russian diplomatic source declaring it 70 per cent likely that an agreement would be reached. “The presidents aren’t travelling [to Minsk] for no reason,” the source said.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Kiev’s insistence on control of the Russian-Ukrainian border – part of which is held by the separatists – could be holding back an agreement.

As the leaders began talks, four people died and five were injured when shells hit a busy bus station in rebel-held Donetsk during the rush hour. Ukraine’s army also said that 19 of its soldiers were killed in a day of pro-Russian separatist assaults at a single location near the railway hub of Debaltseve, some of the worst losses it has reported in nine months of war.

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