MINSK, February 12 -- Marathon talks in Belarus have secured a deal on a roadmap to peace, including a ceasefire, in Ukraine's war with pro-Russian separatists after negotiations through the night to halt the escalating bloodshed.
President Vladimir Putin emerged from the summit with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday, saying they had reached agreement on the "main" points.
Putin said a ceasefire would take effect on Sunday, February 15, and that heavy weapons would be withdrawn from front lines of the conflict, which has already killed at least 5,300 people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Hollande said that the deal wasn't perfect but was a stepping stone to peace in Europe.
"Even though we have not accomplished everything ... this represents 'serious hope' for Ukraine... it is also a big relieve for Europe ... and it's a good example of what Germany and France can do for peace," he said.
Hollande and Poroshenko stressed that separatist leaders had signed the truce, meant to replace an earlier ceasefire agreement reached in Minsk in September but rarely observed.
Reports from Minsk, say: "There are massive problems going on… Now what we've heard as the latest is that Poroshenko is calling certain parts of the Russian position unacceptable, and that clearly shows you where the differences lie.
"They lie between Ukraine and Russia. We are also hearing that the Donetsk People's Republic representative and the Luhansk People's Republic representative, who are also in Minsk within a different location, have turned down whatever was planned, whatever was agreed here in the presidential palace."
The talks in the Belarusian capital were seen as a last opportunity for European leaders to save nearly bankrupt Ukraine from ever-widening defeats at the hands of rebels said by Kiev and the West to be armed by Russia.
Even as the deal was agreed, fighting over the last 24 hours in eastern Ukraine killed 10 civilians and two Ukrainian soldiers, Kiev and rebels said. In another boost for Ukraine's beleaguered government, Christine Lagarde, the IMF chief, said a deal had been reached on a new financial rescue plan worth $17.5bn.
In total, Ukraine will receive $40bn (35 billion euros) in assistance over four years coupled with bilateral loans from other sources, Lagarde said, helping to stabilise Kiev's finances after 10 months of conflict in the east.
Despite the deal, Ukraine and Russia continue to disagree on how to end fighting around the eastern railway hub of Debaltseve. The two sides also differ on the question of autonomy for eastern Ukraine. "Despite firm insistence we didn't agree any status of autonomy for eastern region...We didn't agree on federalisation," Poroshenko said. Details of the truce deal were not immediately released.
One of the main sticking points of the failed September version was who controls the 400km stretch of Russia's border with rebel-controlled Ukraine.
That sector is entirely under Russia and pro-Russian rebel control and is used, according to Kiev, as a conduit for separatist supplies - something the Kremlin denies.
There was also deep disagreement ahead of the Minsk talks over the size of the territory the rebels will control, given that they have made considerable gains in recent weeks, pushing back the outgunned Ukrainian army and volunteer units.
Poroshenko was due to brief European leaders on the latest ceasefire deal at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.
ST.-PETERSBURG, February 12 -- Russia’s dependence on imported software has reached 90% for the time being but can be lowered through expansion of Russian companies in the global IT services market, Russian Minister of Telecommunications Nikolay Nikiforov said on Thursday.
"Russia’s presence on the global software market is no more than 2%," the minister added.
The Russian government is developing measures to support the sector. These are "the expansion of government contracts and subsidies for supplies and customers." The ban on imported software is "counterproductive" and will not be used. Russian companies will be bound to give preference to domestic producers when purchasing the software using government funds, Nikiforov said.
Weakened ruble creates favorable opportunities for the domestic IT industry. Russia will be able to penetrate the global market on account of skillful programmers in the first instance, RUSSOFT CEO Andrei Terekhov said.
The domestic demand is not sufficient for IT sector development, Terekhov said. It is impractical for companies to make huge investments into the software development, e.g. for the exploration sector, if there are just a few potential customers in Russia. Investments into development of such software products will be feasible if the product enters the global market, he added.
KIEV, February 10 -- Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine say they have completely surrounded the strategic town of Debaltseve, a claim denied by the Ukrainian army who insist the fighting is ongoing.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on Tuesday said its fighters have cut off the main supply road into the government-held town - which is in between the separatist hubs of Luhansk and Donetsk. The route had also been used as a humanitarian corridor in recent weeks, allowing civilians to flee the fighting.
"We have just spoken to a rebel separatist commander who tells us Debaltseve is completely surrounded by separatists. As he understands it the separatists are not in the town, the Ukrainian military are still inside," he said.
"The military are denying this, saying there are ongoing battles on the main supply route out of the city. We were on that supply route yesterday and the Ukrainian military we saw were in a state of disarray. "They wanted us out immediately and were pulling back their heavy weaponry. "The situation is very fluid and there is no direct contact with the separatist fighters."
Major rail hub
Debaltseve is of great strategic importance to both sides in the conflict as it is the site of a major rail hub that connects the rebel-controlled DPR with Russia.
"We have spoken to separatist commanders in recent weeks and they have said they are not interested in pushing for peace until they have taken the town," correspondents say. "There is a greater sense of confidence now among the separatists, whereas the general atmosphere among the Ukrainian troops is one of panic, especially on that main supply route."
Separatist fighters from the DPR urged Ukrainian forces to surrender and leave the Debaltseve trap peacefully, said spokesman Eduard Basurin.
"We guarantee security to all who lay down their arms. The others will be eliminated. If the enemy attempts to attack in another place, the strike will be repelled. Some 5,000 - 6,000 Ukrainian servicemen have been trapped in Debaltseve," Basurin said.
Ukraine's military said no reports had confirmed the rebels' claims that the town was encircled. "Fighting is on to control the Artemnivsk-Debaltseve motorway, where a military confrontation continues," military operation spokesman Andriy Lysenko told Interfax on Monday evening.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Tuesday that Russian-backed fighters had launched an artillery strike on the town of Kramatorsk, which is more than 50km (30 miles) away from the front line.
Poroshenko said the first round of rocket fire hit the headquarters of the Ukrainian command in eastern Ukraine and the second landed in a residential area. The government-controlled Donetsk regional administration said seven people were killed, while 16 people were injured in the residential area and 10 more at the military headquarters.
MOSCOW, February 8 -- The leaders of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine are expected to hold telephone negotiations on Sunday that will culminate the shuttle efforts to find a way out the Ukraine crisis that were taken at the very top level this weekend.
"Work (on the Ukraine crisis) will continue and its preliminary results will be summed up next Sunday during a summit-level telephone conversation to be held in the "Normandy format", the Russian president’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said at night after the five-hour talks in the Kremlin last Friday between Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The European leaders arrived in Moscow last Thursday, February 5, after consultations with Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko whom they had met in Kiev.
"Judging from proposals formulated by the French president and German chancellor, the text of a possible joint document on implementation of the Minsk agreements is being in the making. The document is supposed to include proposals made by the Ukrainian president and initiatives formulated today (on Friday) and added by Russian President Vladimir Putin," the Kremlin spokesperson said adding the text and the proposals would be submitted for approval to all the sides in the Ukraine conflict.
The participants in the negotiations preferred not to elaborate on the essence of the talks or the initiatives under discussion. The Russian president also refrained from making any public assessment of the Friday consultations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who is also in Munich held a series of consultations on the Ukraine crisis, including with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German counterpart Frank Walter Steinmeier.
In his speech at the conference, Lavrov said that Russia was ready to act as a guarantor of the future agreements between Kiev, Lugansk and Donetsk. Russia confirmed its stance that the sides in conflict should establish a direct dialogue with each other.
An the unveiling Dartford council's Jeremy Kite said, 'Platform 2 has a small but important role in pop music history. I hope that in the years ahead many thousands of rail passengers will enjoy looking at the plaque and realising the part the station played in bringing The Rolling Stones together.'
Keith Richards described the day he met Mick Jagger on October 17, 1961 in his autobiography 'Life'. In 1962, he wrote a letter to his Aunty Patty. 'You know I was keen on Chuck Berry and thought I was the only fan for miles but one morning on the Dartford Station I was holding one of Chuck's records when a guy I knew at primary school 7-11 years y'know came up to me. He's got every record Chuck Berry ever made and all his mates have too, they are all rhythm and blues fans, real R&B I mean (not this Dinah Shore, Brooke Benton crap). Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Chuck, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and all the Chicago bluesmen. Real lowdown stuff, marvellous. Bo Diddley, he's another great.
'Anyway the guy on the station, he's called Mick Jagger . Mick is the greatest R&B singer this side of the Atlantic'.
MOSCOW, February 8 -- The Russian Emergencies Ministry relief convoy bound for Donbas has arrived at the Russian state border in the Rostov region, Oleg Voronov, the deputy head of the ministry’s national crisis management center says.
"The customs formalities at the Donetsk and Matveyev Kurgan border crossing posts are over and now head for Donetsk and Lugansk," he said.
Representatives of Ukraine’s customs and border services and OSCE monitors are helping to inspect the vehicles. More than 170 trucks will deliver over 1,800 tonnes of relief cargoes such as food, sanitary essentials, building materials and other life necessities for the population of the conflict-stricken Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
"The relief convoy was formed in the territory of the Rostov region over the past week. Cargoes were delivered from various parts of Russia," Voronov said adding that the Russian Emergencies Ministry had practiced to perfection all the mechanisms of dispatching aid to Donbas from the convoy’s formation to the aid’s delivery to the final destination in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
"The aid convoy is going to split in two parts: more than a hundred vehicles will deliver over 1,100 tonnes of relief aid to Donetsk; the other 70 trucks with more than 700 tonnes of relief cargoes will head for Lugansk," Voronov clarified. "The drivers know the route very well. They have already delivered aid to the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, sometimes in harsh weather conditions in which they had to display self-possession and concentrate attention," the Emergencies Ministry representative said.
On February 7, the Emergencies Ministry staff working at the Donskoy rescue center allowed journalists to look inside the trucks, which the latter chose to their own discretion. Correspondents say that some trucks contained canned food and sacks with rice and flour; others were loaded with building materials, which the people of Donbas needed urgently to restore and repair buildings damaged by shells.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry leadership has said many times that the ministry will continue sending relief aid to Donbas so long as the region needs it. Another aid convoy will head for Donbas on February 15.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry truck convoys have delivered more than 16,000 tonnes of relief cargoes to the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since August last year.
One of the top authors of The Peet Journal is Pete McGea. As a native born Scotsman, Pete