Ukraine Prepares for Truce With Rebels as Both Voice Doubts

Ukraine’s government and separatist rebels are preparing to begin a truce next week, even as frequent violations of previous cease-fires raised questions from both sides over whether it will last.

Ukrainian officials agreed to hold a day of silence on Dec. 9 in a deal with representatives from Russia, eastern separatists and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday. It follows a truce approved four months ago in Minsk, Belarus, that’s been broken almost daily.

“As far as the cease-fire, which they plan to implement fully from Dec. 9, this agreement was reached between the Kiev security forces and the rebels,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Basel, Switzerland after an OSCE meeting. He said Russia’s military helped broker the deal, under which both sides will agree on a dividing line and withdraw weapons.

More than 4,300 people have died in the conflict, according to a “conservative” estimate from the United Nations. The fighting has touched off the worst standoff between Russia and the U.S. and the European Union since the Cold War. Ukraine’s allies blame Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government of instigating the crisis by giving rebels weapons, cash and fighters. Putin denies any involvement.

Doubts Abound

Ukraine’s foreign reserves fell to $10 billion, the lowest since at least January 2005, the central bank said after it dipped into its stash to pay off Russian energy debt. It was less than the $10.5 billion median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of four economists. The hryvnia was little changed at 15.35 per dollar at 1:42 p.m. in Kiev. In Moscow, the ruble was 1.1 percent higher to 53.6975.

Russia has called for a new round of talks under the Minsk format, which includes the participation of the rebels. Ukraine is ready to hold new discussions, Valeriy Chaly, said deputy chief of Poroshenko’s office.

“We will not agree to be a buffer, a gray zone between defense and security systems, between big political alliances,” Chaly told reporters in Kiev today.

“We will see how the rebels honor the cease-fire,” Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovskyi said by phone today. “Their previous actions have shown that one shouldn’t trust them, as they have used the truce to redeploy troops and conduct new attacks on our positions.”

A “tactical document” may be signed on Dec. 9 or Dec. 10, Andrei Purgin, head of parliament of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said by phone. Characterizing the dynamics of the truce talks as “positive,” he said the agreement would list exact locations from which heavy weapons may be moved to 30 kilometers (19 miles) behind the front lines.

“For me, the start of the process looks like this: a truck starts the engine and takes the artillery away,” Purgin said in an interview. “The previous cease-fire was broken because of the use of heavy weaponry.”

Three civilians were killed, and rebels attacked Ukrainian positions 55 times overnight, the Defense Ministry said on Facebook. Six government troops died and 13 were wounded, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a briefing in Kiev.

‘Revisionist Narrative’

Earlier this week, a briefly called cease-fire ended at the airport in Donetsk, a flashpoint of the conflict where heavy fighting has destroyed terminals built before the Euro 2012 Soccer Championships. More than 300 Russian soldiers have died and about 200 have been wounded at the airport, news service Interfax reported yesterday, citing Oleksandr Rozmaznin of the Ukrainian military command center.

Putin attacked the U.S. and Europe yesterday for backing Ukraine, and likened Crimea, which his government annexed in March, to Russia’s “Jerusalem.” He blamed the conflict on “the coup and violent takeover of power” in Kiev, a reference to protests that prompted the flight of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Russia in February and subsequent elections and the establishment of a new government.

U.S. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Putin had presented a “revisionist narrative on the crisis in Ukraine” that was “deeply troubling but utterly unconvincing.”

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