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Ukraine pact calls for pullback by both

| Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, 8:45 p.m.

BERLIN — Separatist forces deployed more arms and manpower Wednesday to an emerging flashpoint in eastern Ukraine, hours before diplomats from Russia and Ukraine agreed on a dividing line from where both sides should pull back their heavy weapons.

Germany's Foreign Minister, who hosted a meeting of his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and France, said the four parties had agreed that the demarcation line defined in the Minsk agreement of last year should form the basis for the withdrawal. Under the plan, Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists would pull back their heavy arms 9 miles on either side of the line, though there was no agreement on a withdrawal of all troops.

“Today we have finally agreed that the demarcation line mentioned in the Minsk agreement is the line from where the withdrawal of heavy weapons needs to take place now,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after the meeting in Berlin.

Steinmeier said the agreement had been “difficult work” and the talks, which follow a fruitless round of negotiations last week, were “testing the patience of all involved.” The parties also agreed that the contact group of Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE should meet as soon as possible with the aim of laying further groundwork for a high-level meeting in Kazakhstan's capital Astana aimed at reaching a long-lasting settlement.

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the “strong support” for the pullback was the meeting's most important result. He said the foreign ministers did not discuss the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, saying: “The sanctions are not our problem, it is the problem of those who introduced them and now do not know how to extricate themselves ...”

Earlier Wednesday, Lavrov had urged measures to contain the unfolding unrest, but said nothing about the rebels surrendering territory they acquired in violation of a peace deal concluded in September in Minsk, Belarus. Ukraine says separatist forces that are backed by Russia have overstepped agreed-upon front-line boundaries between the warring sides by 190 square miles.

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