The talks have produced two documents: a joint statement that sets intentions and broad objectives, and a more detailed 13-point Russian-language document entitled “A Complex of Measures forFulfillment of the Minsk Agreement.”
The joint statement, adopted by Vladimir Putin, Petro Poroshenko, Angela Merkel, and Francois Hollande, commits their respective countries to respect Ukrainian territorial integrity and seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis based on the original Minsk agreement signed in September.
France and Germany also promise to offer assistance in restoring the banking system in the conflict areas eastern Ukraine, which should provide significant economic relief to local people.
And all countries support trilateral talks between Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union to ensure gas deliveries and allay Russian concerns over the EU association agreement with Ukraine.
It was former president Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of that agreement under Russian pressure that sparked the revolution that led to the current crisis.
But the really interesting stuff is in the second document, which lays out time tables and step-by-step conditions for the implementation of a peace deal.
The first step is a general ceasefire from midnight on the 14th to 15th of February (Sunday).
That is to be followed two days later by a withdrawal of heavy artillery and rocket systems from the front line. Ukrainians are obliged to complete the withdrawal from the current line of contact, and the separatists from the original line agreed at the previous ceasefire in Minsk in September, within 14 days of the ceasefire.
Next comes a full prisoner exchange, with both sides committed to freeing all hostages and POWs within five days of the withdrawal of heavy weaponry.
Previous efforts to organize ceasefires and prisoner exchanges have only been partially successful.
Even trickier is the political settlement – including a large slice of autonomy for the rebels, withdrawal of foreign (i.e. Russian, though that word is not used) troops, and restoration of Ukraine’s control of its border with Russia.
The mechanism outlined in the document is complex, delicate, and riddled with opportunities for either side to baulk or accuse the other of non-compliance.
First, the Ukrainian parliament has 30 days in which to reinstate a law granting special status – including more autonomy – to the eastern regions at the centre of the war.
Under that law, local elections must be organised in consultation with the defacto – i.e. separatist – authorities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Next, Ukraine must pass sweeping constitutional reforms devolving significant power to the regions, including the right to raise their own police forces, chose an official regional language (this is designed to protect Russian language rights), and conclude cross-border deals with neighbouring regions of Russia. The central government will continue to fund the regions and restore banking services.
This is good news for the long-suffering civilians of the Donbass. Many have been left destitute and on the brink of starvation since Kiev cut off the banking system, pensions, and state-sector salaries in November, and the separatists have singularly failed to establish a functioning state to replace such services.
Ukraine has until the end of this year to pass those reforms. Only then will it be allowed to restore full control of its border with Russia.
But the text is rife with opportunities for disagreement and worse.
The delay before implementation of the ceasefire potentially grants both sides time to grab more ground before the guns fall silent. Russian-backed separatists may use the next two days to finish off their assault on the railway junction of Debaltseve.
If Ukraine really seals its borders, the separatists will be left incredibly vulnerable. They, and their Russian backers, may baulk at actually implementing that part of the deal.
Similarly, although the agreement calls for the withdrawal of “foreign armed units, military equipment, and also mercenaries” from Ukrainian territory under OSCE observation, no deadline is set for such a withdrawal.
And the agreement does not specifically mention Russian troops, absolving Moscow of any commitment to withdraw the forces it continues to deny are there (denials that Nato and Western governments scoff at).
The most contentious element is the devolution of power to the regions.
The agreement grants strong powers to the regions, but in an apparently conscious fudge does not mention the word “federalization” – which Moscow has previously insisted on, and which Mr Poroshenko has ruled out.
This is almost guaranteed to be a source of deal-breaking quarrels over meaning.
Nor does this document address the fundamental geo-political quarrel that sparked the war: Russia’s deep-seated opposition to Ukraine’s alignment with the European Union and Nato expansion.
One sign of progress, however, is that Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky, the leaders of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, are reported to have signed the Complex of Measures under pressure from Mr Putin.
Previously they have publicly rejected “special status” or federalization within Ukraine, insisting that they would become either fully independent or join Russia.
Such intransigence played a major part in the collapse of the first Minsk agreement signed five months ago. They may yet torpedo this one.