- Rebels in the separatist eastern regions in Donetsk and Luhansk have agreed to move back smaller-caliber weapons from much of the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
The withdrawal of weapons from the front lines by each side has been required by the Minsk agreement. The process started back in late February. Violations of the agreement have been frequent ever since then and there have been heavy casualties at times on both sides. Ukrainian military spokesperson Col. Lysenkosaid that three civilians had been killed in the town of Avdivka. Digital Journal reports recent shelling with casualties in Donetsk.Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the Donetsk Republic rebels claimed his forces are willing to pull back tanks and armored vehicles with weapons under 100mm 3 kilometers or 1.9 miles from the front line except for what he called problem areas. Luhansk rebels are willing to make a similar move. A statement by rebel officials to a Russian news agency said: "To show our commitment to the Minsk agreements, we are ready to make the next step towards peace. For that, [we are ready] to pull back our units with tanks and armored vehicles, equipped with weapons under 100mm calibre, to at least three kilometres (1.9 miles) from the front line,” However, the statement also spoke of "problem areas" that would be exceptions to the policy. Since the conflict in the eastern regions broke out in April of 2014 an estimated 6,500 people have been killed. While a peace agreement was brokered in Minsk Belarus last February violations of the agreement have been continual.As part of the Minsk agreement Ukraine agreed to constitutional changes that would grant autonomy to the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. There is considerable resistance to the legislation and the US and others are exerting pressure on Kiev. Serhiy Taruta, former governor of the Donetsk region complained: "With this constitutional reform we will legitimize the status of occupied territory, and I think that is a defeat for Ukraine." Bogdan Jarmenko claimed that considerable pressure is being exerted on the Ukraine to pass the legislation. President Petro Poroshenko denies he is under foreign pressure. However the US has an important official present:While Ukrainian officials face objections that the legislation is a victory for the rebels, the rebels and Russians criticized the draft proposals.The Russian Foreign Ministry called the draft "an exercise in political demagoguery". Another official said the drafts had nothing to do with the Minsk agreement. The separatists were also critical and complained that the drafts had been prepared without any consultation with them.
The presence of US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland at the parliamentary vote was evidence of just how important the reform is. Prior to the vote, Nuland met with legislators in Kyiv to convince them to vote in favor of the proposal.