A battle of nerves ended this morning as the Russian and Ukrainian leaders agreed to a ceasefire in Belarus over contested territory in the embattled eastern European state.
Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the ceasefire would be effective from midnight 15th February, bringing hope to a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 5,400 people.
It brings an end to tense 16-hour talks with the French and German leaders.
Meanwhile, reports have emerged this morning that Russia has launched military exercises in 12 regions, involving more than 30 missile regiments, according to a Russian defence ministry official.
More than 5,400 people have died in the civil conflict between pro-Russian separatists – armed by the Kremlin – and Ukrainian nationalists. Russia has always denied claims it provides arms or troops to the separatists.
Russian president Vladimir Putin greeted Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko coldly yesterday, foreshadowing the icy nature of the talks.
Tensions escalated after president Poroshenko allegedly stormed out of the meeting hall briefly after an “emotional conversation” with Mr Putin, Russian media reported.
Eyebrows were also raised after pictures emerged that appeared to show Mr Putin snapping a pencil during talks.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the few Western leaders respected by Mr Putin, and France’s president Francois Hollande also attended the talks.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
Crowds of reporters waited outside the negotiation hall, with tensions from inside the hall radiating out to waiting journalists.
Local news channels reported various fracases between partisan journalists from both sides, with one Russian reporter - known for his close ties to the Kremlin - snapping at a female Ukrainian journalist who asked about his accreditation.
Hope remains limited. Many observers acknowledge the best case scenario would be for an agreed ceasefire, which will depend heavily on how far president Poroshenko’s is willing to accept a compromise – and what Russia will offer.
Prior to the start of talks yesterday, the Ukrainian leader appeared unoptimistic.
"The entire world is waiting to see whether the situation moves toward de-escalation, weapons pullback, cease-fire, or ... spins out of control," he told reporters.
Even as the leaders fight, real battle still rages across corners of the fractured country.
The United Nations reported that between 31 January and 4 February an estimated 263 civilians were killed.
What are the key sticking points of the deal?
- New lines in the mud: There will be intense discussion around the changing of border lines. Russia wants to honour the rebels advances, while Ukraine is keen to stick to those drawn up in September – crucially before pro-Russian advances.
- Withdrawal of Kremlin-backed soldiers and weaponry: Russia has consistently denied that it possesses any troops in the area. A stance that Ukrainian leaders – and western observers, such as NATO – say is discredited.
- Secure borders: Kiev needs to maintain control of Russian borders to halt the flow of troops and missiles into the country. Russian leaders claim control of the borders rests with those who hold them – in this case rebel forces.
- Separatist autonomy: Russia is demanding guarantees of the broader rights of pro-Russian or separatist Ukrainians living under the Kiev government. Ukrainian officials claim their rights are protected under already existing law.
- Finally, Russia needs Ukraine to end its financial blockade of the east.
Additional reporting by Associated PressReuse content