Removal of heavy arms begins in east Ukraine
Government troops and pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine have declared immediate efforts to withdraw heavy weaponry from the frontlines following a successful prisoner exchange bid.
The deputy commander of defense ministry corps of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) announced on Sunday that the Ukrainian military and pro-Russia forces have agreed to pull out heavy weapons from the battle zone.
“Today, we’ve done preparatory work. Tomorrow is a holiday, and starting from [February] 24 the process of heavy weapons pullout will begin,” said Eduard Basurin, as cited in a report by the Donetsk news agency.
Ukrainian General Aleksandr Rozmaznin was also quoted in press reports as confirming that documents have been signed by the warring parties “to begin withdrawing heavy weapons all along the frontline.”
The completion of the process for the removal of heavy arms is set for March 7, according to the terms of the truce between the two sides.
Verifying arms removal
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are currently at the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, waiting to see documented evidence of the pullout, such as inventory lists, routes and the locations of the concentration of the weapons, according to a report by RT.
“A special monitoring mission of the OSCE has been monitoring displacements of the heavy weapons for five months already,” the head of Ukrainia’s OSCE mission Ertugrul Apakan said in a statement.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier expressed optimism on Sunday about the signs that the east Ukraine conflict may be de-escalating after the prisoner exchange.
“There are early signs that it might at least be some de-escalation. Both sides have finally exchanged prisoners and are apparently willing to begin the withdrawal of heavy weapons, not everywhere, but at key points of the front – it’s all part of the Minsk agreements,” said Steinmeier as quoted in Germany’s Bild daily.
In efforts to bring an end to the bloody Ukrainian conflict, which has already taken an estimated 5,600 lives, leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany agreed on a peace deal in the Belarusian capital of Minsk earlier this month with measures such as a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy arms, as well as constitutional reforms in Ukraine by the end of the year.