Constitutional reform, autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk foreseen in Ukraine ceasefire deal

Donetsk People's Republic leader says no other agreement will be done if today's one is violated · Deal has been agreed by presidents of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, France, is similar to unimplemented September agreement

The presidents of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France today reached an agreement to implement a ceasefire in the Donbass front, where the Ukrainian army and militias of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) have been fighting since 2014. The deal includes the cessation of hostilities as of 15th February midnight, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, and commitment to the autonomy of Donetsk and Luhansk.

According to the text of the agreement as released by the Kremlin, the Ukrainian Parliament within one month needs to pass a resolution on partial self-government of Donetsk and Luhansk areas currently under rebel control.

It also envisages the start of a negotiating process that should lead, before the end of 2015, to a constitutional reform in Ukraine based on the principle of decentralization. This reform must provide for a final, special status for Donetsk and Luhansk. And only then will Ukraine be able to regain control over its border with Russia in that sector. This is critical for Kiev's interests: the Ukrainians blame the Russians for supplying weapons and men to the DPR and LPR militias.

Today's agreement is quite similar to that reached last September, which has not been implemented.

Uncertainty on negotiations

DPR head Aleksandr Zakharchenko said there will be no more deals if today's agreement is violated by Ukraine. Moreover, Zakharchenko said that outstanding issues still remain to be agreed upon.

One of them is the concrete scope of the future self-government in Donetsk and Luhansk. On several occasions in recent months, DPR and LPR leaders have insisted they will not accept any final agreement that does not recognize the existence of both self-proclaimed republics and their sovereignty over the whole of the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

In contrast, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has also said several times that he is not willing to recognize the DPR and the LPR, though he has accepted to grant special status to both territories.

The orientation of Ukraine's foreign policy

Another issue that is linked to the current dispute in the Donbass is the orientation of Ukraine's foreign policy. The current, pro-Western Ukrainian government  wants to bring the country closer to the European Union and NATO, but Russia staunchly opposes the move. This divergence is at the root of the process that led to the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent declaration of independence by the DPR and the LPR.

Analysts agree it will be difficult to consolidate peace in Donetsk and Luhansk if no agreement is reached on what direction is Ukraine to take from now onwards as regards its foreign policy. One option that could meet Russian interests is having Ukraine acting -as it had done before- as a buffer state between the EU's eastern border and Russia's western border.