Ukraine foes begin key troop pullback in war-torn east

Bogdanivka: The Ukrainian army and Moscow-backed separatists on Saturday launched the last phase of a troop pullback ahead of a high-stakes summit with Russia, the warring sides said. The long-awaited withdrawal of troops in the conflict-riven Donetsk and Lugansk regions is a precondition for the first face-to-face talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. The Paris summit, whose date has yet to be confirmed, will be mediated by the leaders of France and Germany.
“The disengagement of troops and weaponry has begun” between the villages of Petrivske in the separatist-controlled zone and Bogdanivka in Kiev-controlled territory in the Donetsk region, said a senior Ukrainian army representative, Bogdan Bondar. Donetsk separatists also confirmed the start of the withdrawal of forces. The warring sides signalled their intention to withdraw by firing flares, an AFP correspondent said from the scene.
OSCE monitors were observing the disengagement which could be spread over several days.
The warring sides held a similar pullback in the Lugansk region in October. Since coming to power in May, comedian-turned-president Zelensky has sought to establish dialogue with Russian leader Putin and revive a peace process to end a five-year-old separatist conflict.
The war in eastern Ukraine broke out a month after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and has claimed some 13,000 lives. Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of giving financial and military backing to separatists, which Russia denies.
“The Normandy format aims to renew dialogue, which can bring us closer to the complete end of the war,” Zelensky said this week. — AFP