Ukraine said attacks by pro-Russian insurgents in its easternmost regions abated for the first time in eight days, allaying concern that a six-month-old peace accord is unraveling.
Ukrainian officials said they saw a drop in the use of heavy weaponry and reported no new civilian deaths overnight after accusing the militants of intensifying assaults last week. The rebels, who blame the army for the surge in violence, said as recently as Sunday that the situation was “one step” from returning to war.
“Illegal armed groups significantly decreased their provocative shelling of Ukrainian positions,” military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh said Tuesday on the army’s YouTube channel.
Ukraine’s 16-month conflict, calmed by a wobbly cease-fire, has threatened to boil over again in recent days as the warring factions bicker over how to implement the peace agreement. The fighting has prompted calls for renewed talks between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, whose leaders hammered out the February deal in Minsk, Belarus.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will meet in Brussels before the end of August, Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt told reporters Tuesday in Brussels.
The decrease in attacks “raises the suspicion” that insurgents may be running short on ammunition, according to Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a Ukrainian military spokesman.
Separatist officials countered the accusations, with Donetsk rebel deputy commander Eduard Basurin saying government forces fired more than 7,000 shells at territory controlled by his self-proclaimed republic during the past week. Seventeen civilians were killed and 45 wounded in the attacks, he told the rebel-run DAN news service.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also blamed Ukraine, telling reporters in Sevastopol, Crimea, that the government is concentrating military units in the nation’s east.
“We’re seeing this escalation and the blame doesn’t rest with the Donbas rebels,” he said. “It’s on the opposite side”
While Ukraine detected no rebel shelling of civilian areas in the past day, separatists continue to amass troops near Donetsk, the largest city in the conflict zone, and use howitzers to fire on Ukrainian positions from a long distance, the military said. One serviceman was killed and another wounded overnight.
The unrest is adding to pressure on the government in Kiev as it grapples with a recession, the world’s second-worst-performing currency and debt-restructuring negotiations with foreign creditors. The Ukrainian government’s dollar-denominated bonds due 2017 advanced 0.32 cents to 57.13 cents on the dollar as of 7:42 p.m. in Kiev, data compiled by Bloomberg show.