The Ukraine government is set to withdraw 'heavy weapons' from the front line

UkraineGleb Garanich/ReutersCannons of the Ukrainian armed forces are seen at their positions near Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine, February 17, 2015.

The Ukraine Defence Ministry has confirmed reports that the government is preparing to withdraw heavy artillery from the front lines on Thursday.

A statement on its website said: “Following the agreements reached in Minsk on February 12, Ukraine will today begin the withdrawal of 100-millimetre guns of from the front lines. This is the first step in the removal of heavy weapons, which will be subject to monitoring and verification by the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe].”

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko had ordered his troops to stop firing at 10pm on Saturday, February 14 local time. However, heavy fighting continued between government forces and pro-Moscow rebels around the strategically important railway town of Debaltseve.

The town was eventually taken by pro-Russian separatists last week, with most of the government forces having withdrawn by last Wednesday. Poroshenko claimed that “troops and formations have left in an organised and planned manner” but most view the loss of Debaltseve as a humiliating defeat for the government in Kiev and a sign that the rebels are consolidating their gains in the east of the country.

As a further embarrassment to Kiev,
Russian TV station Channel 1 filmed the flag of Novorossiya (New Russia), the term that the Kremlin uses to describe the territories held by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, being raised as a symbol of their capture of the town.

Raising the flag could be seen as playing into the Kremlin’s narrative of the crisis, which is that the government in Kiev is trying to undermine the right of ethnic Russians in the east of the country to self-determination — albeit within Moscow’s sphere of influence.

However, this latest move could provide hope that the ceasefire deal might finally be working to de-escalate the conflict and allow the government in Kiev time to focus on tackling rampant inflation and a collapsing economy.

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