Ukraine agreed on a cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists to stem months of bloodshed as U.S. and European leaders said they plan more penalties on Russia until it’s clear President Vladimir Putin is serious about peace.
The two sides agreed to stop fighting at 6 p.m. local time today, Heidi Tagliavini, a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which will help monitor the accord, told reporters after negotiations in Minsk, Belarus. The talks included representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, where most of the fighting has occurred, and the OSCE.
“Proceeding from President Putin’s call to leaders of illegal military formations to cease fire, and from the signing of the trilateral agreement in Minsk to implement the peace plan, I am ordering the General Staff to cease fire,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement. He canceled a summer truce on July 1 after his government cited more than 100 violations by the separatists.
The rebels, though, remained defiant, with the leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitskiy, telling reporters that the accord doesn’t alter the goal of “splitting” from Ukraine.
“The cease-fire will save lives, not only of civilians, but also of those who defend their ideals, goals and tasks with weapons,” said Alexander Zakharchenko, who calls himself prime minister of Donetsk.
The agreement includes pulling back troops, swapping prisoners and the delivery of humanitarian aid including from Russia, according to Tagliavini, of the OSCE. Former President Leonid Kuchma, who led the Ukrainian delgation, said aid shipments will begin tomorrow.
The legal status of the mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk wasn’t discussed today, according to Tagliavini. Russia has sought broader autonomy for the regions since Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych was deposed after months of protests in February, leading to Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
Putin, 61, wants to turn Luhansk and Donetsk into quasi statelets with the right to veto major national initiatives, such as Ukraine joining NATO, according to five current and former Russian officials and advisers.
Poroshenko, 48, said on his website his peace plan follows what he and Putin agreed to by phone, including “significant” steps toward “decentralization” in Donestk and Luhansk, including special status for parts of those regions relating to the economy and use of language. He didn’t elaborate.
U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters at the NATO summit in Wales that world leaders will go ahead with new sanctions, saying he’s “skeptical” Russia will stop “violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
Still, a lasting truce would be the biggest breakthrough yet in the conflict, which has killed more than 2,600 people, displaced more than 1 million more, and soured Russia’s relations with its former Cold War foes to the worst in more than two decades. Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe say Putin is backing the insurgency with financing, weapons and manpower. Russia denies any involvement.
The cease-fire comes as representatives of the 28 EU governments meet in Brussels to consider tightening the sanctions that were imposed on Russia in July. Proposals include barring some Russian state-owned defense and energy companies from raising capital in the EU, a U.K. official said.
A truce would be “a very good signal,” but it won’t yet mark a turning point, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who becomes EU president on Dec. 1, told reporters in Rybnik, Poland, before the deal in Minsk was reached, after speaking by phone with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s premier.
“Ukraine’s leaders will do all they can to put a stop to the war, they’re very flexible” Tusk said.