EU leaders give cautious welcome to new Minsk ceasefire deal

EU leaders arriving at a summit in Brussels give a cautious welcome to the ceasefire agreed in Minsk.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (FEBRUARY 12, 2015) (REUTERS) – EU leaders gave a cautious welcome on Thursday (February 12) to a ceasefire agreed by leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus but said that the true test would be its effectiveness on the ground.

French President Francois Hollande said the deal agreed aimed at ending the conflict in Ukraine was not a guarantee of long-term success.

“The agreement doesn’t guarantee that there will be lasting success in the coming days, that supposes that we will continue to be vigilant and apply pressure and pursue the action that has been taken thanks to the initiative launched by the (German) chancellor (Angela Merkel) and myself,” he told reporters as he arrived for an informal meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said EU sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict should not be lifted unless Russian President Vladimir Putin alters his behaviour.

“If this is a genuine ceasefire, then of course that would be welcome. But what matters most of all is actually actions on the ground rather than just words on a piece of paper. I think we should be very clear that Vladimir Putin needs to know that unless his behaviour changes, the sanctions we have in place won’t be altered,” he said as he arrived for Thursday’s meeting.

The EU summit is the first of newly-elected leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who expressed confidence that Athens and fellow euro zone governments would be able to find a mutually acceptable solution for Greece’s debt problems.

“I’m very confident that all together we can find a mutually viable solution in order to heal the wounds of austerity, to tackle humanitarian crisis across the EU and to bring Europe back to the road of growth and social cohesion,” he said as he arrived.

Thursday’s informal meeting was pushed back from an original start time of 1200 GMT to 1500 GMT to await the arrival of Hollande, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the European Council after the Minsk talks continued long into the night.

Merkel described the new agreement with Russia on resolving the crisis in Ukraine as a good start but cautioned that undertakings must now be respected.

“I want to say one more time, this is a glimmer of hope, no more and no less, we will try to use it. But, it is now very important that words are followed by actions,” she said.

The German Chancellor said she was also looking forward to her first meeting with Tsipras and that the EU’s tradition was always to work for a compromise.

However, she also cautioned that the credibility of Europe relied on its member states respecting the rules, in an apparent comment on Tsipras’ determination to end Greece’s international bailout and reverse its austerity measures.

“I would only say that Europe always aims to find a compromise, and that is the success of Europe, a compromise is about weighing the advantages and the disadvantages. And Germany is ready for that. However, it must also be said that Europe’s credibility naturally depends on us respecting rules and being reliable with each other. We’ll see what proposals the Greeks make. That will be discussed in the framework of the (euro zone) finance ministers who meet again on Monday. So we have a few days’ time, and I am looking forward to the first meeting,” she said.

Merkel was due to meet Tsipras privately on the sidelines of the one-day informal EU summit.

Other leaders said it was up to Greece to respect budget discipline and economic reform commitments made by previous governments if it wanted continued aid.