Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists agreed on Wednesday to withdraw troops from three small towns on the front line in eastern Ukraine, a pilot de-escalation project that is part of the latest push to get a much-violated ceasefire to stick.
Under the terms of the agreement, armed forces from both sides are banned from entering the three areas, which are four square kilometers each in size. The withdrawal must start within a month and be completed within three days.
The move follows a new truce on Sept. 15 that spurred hopes for the peace process, although it failed to stem all the violence in the region. The conflict has killed over 9,600 soldiers, civilians and pro-Russian rebels since April 2014.
Anything that reduces the chances of a flare up is good. The successful creation of a buffer zone around the Donbas is potentially not just good, but great. One of Kiev’s conditions for implementing political reforms like regional autonomy has always been that it must have control of the Russian border returned to it–which, all things considered, isn’t an unreasonable request for a national government to make. The rebels, obviously, aren’t inclined to give up their conduit into Russia because they fear it will leave them surrounded and vulnerable. If the rebels are willing to relinquish control of the border in exchange for a buffer zone, which would buy it and/or Moscow time to act if Kiev opts to resume the war, then that removes a big hurdle to a permanent settlement to the conflict.