Ukraine president says cease-fire deal agreed with Russia’s Putin

September 3rd, 2014 by Staff

The office of Ukraine’s president said Wednesday that he had reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, but it was not immediately clear whether fighting would actually stop.

A brief statement from the office of Petro Poroshenko said that “mutual understanding was reached regarding the steps that will contribute to the establishment of peace,” but gave no further details.

“The result of the conversation was agreement on a permanent cease-fire in the Donbass,” the statement continued, using the collective term for the eastern Ukraine regions.

Vladimir Antyfeyev, a senior leader of the Russia-backed rebels whom Ukrainian forces have been fighting since April, told The Associated Press he could not say whether the separatists would adhere to a cease-fire because he was not commanding the forces. “But I definitely welcome this,” he said.

The rebels ignored a 10-day unilateral cease-fire that Poroshenko had called in June.

In Tallinn, Estonia, President Barack Obama said it was “too early to tell” whether the cease-fire would hold, though he restated his support for Poroshenko’s efforts to “achieve a meaningful cease-fire.”

Russian markets jumped on the news. The MICEX benchmark was 3 percent higher while the ruble rose 1.2 percent against the U.S. dollar.

Germany’s Dax index, which has been particularly sensitive to news regarding the Ukrainian crisis because of the country’s economic ties with Russia, was up 1.6 percent.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to support pro-Russian insurgents who have been fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine since mid-April. Moscow has vehemently denied this charge.

That denial leaves unclear how effective the truce announced Wednesday would prove to be. After a meeting with Poroshenko last week, Putin had said a cease-fire was not discussed because Russia was not a party to the conflict.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by Russian news agencies on Wednesday as saying the leaders had “largely agreed on steps that would be conducive to a cease-fire,” but repeated that Russia is not involved in the fighting.

Rebel leader said earlier this week that they would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for autonomy. The rebels previously have called for full independence for their regions or possible absorption into Russia. Poroshenko has spoken in favor of devolving some of the central government’s power to regions, but that is far short of autonomy for the rebel regions.

Over the weekend, the European Union leaders agreed to prepare a new round of sanctions that could be enacted in a week, after NATO accused Russia of sending tanks and troops into southeastern Ukraine. A NATO summit in Wales on Thursday is also expected to approve measures designed to counter Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.

U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia Wednesday morning in a show of solidarity with NATO allies who fear they could be the next target of Russia’s aggression.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 2,600 people and forced over 340,000 to flee their homes, according to the U.N.

Earlier Wednesday, Reuters reported that separatist rebels in Ukraine were close to taking back control of the Donetsk airport from government forces in what would be the insurgents’ most significant gain since their latest offensive began last week.

“The airport is 95 percent under our control. Practically, we are holding it by now. Some remaining Ukrainian troops need to be cleared,” Aleksandar Timofeyev, a leader of one of the main rebel units in Donetsk, told Reuters. “The Ukrainian army is retreating. It’s more of a flight by now. Reasonable ones give up their weapons and go. Others stay in the ground for good.”

A rebel source told the news agency that an attempt to storm the airport was under way: “It will soon be over.”

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