Ukraine Truce Holding as Shelling Halted, Government Says

The truce in Ukraine’s easternmost region is holding with no artillery shelling and no recent casualties among Ukrainian government forces amid some small-arms fire, a military spokesman said.

“Since we have the artillery silence regime and no active offensive actions, the rebels are shooting from afar, mostly with small arms, without attacking,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters today in Kiev. “The separatists continue attempts to provoke Ukrainian soldiers, but our troops are holding their positions.”

A drop in the fighting in Ukraine has stoked optimism that a cease-fire signed last month will hold as attention shifts to Moscow, where the opposition is holding a march to commemorate Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down near the Kremlin Friday night. Nemtsov was compiling a report about Russia’s involvement in its neighbor’s conflict, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday.

“A few weeks ago I spoke to him about how to build relations between Ukraine and Russia,” Poroshenko was cited as saying by the Interfax news service. “Boris declared that he must show convincing proof of Russian troops’ participation in Ukraine. Someone was afraid of that very much. Boris wasn’t afraid, but his executioners were. They killed him.”

Ukraine and its allies accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of stoking the conflict by supplying the separatists with weapons, cash, intelligence and troops from across the border in Russia. Putin rejects the accusations. The European Union and the U.S. are threatening to intensify sanctions against Russia if Putin doesn’t use his sway to help stop the conflict, which has killed more than 5,600 people.

‘Convincing Proof’

The rebels continue to amass weapons, munitions and fighters, and Russia continues to send them supplies from across the border, Lysenko said on Saturday.

Ukraine’s Donetsk rebels completed their heavy-weapon pullback, rebel-controlled news website DAN reported, citing Eduard Basurin, separatist official. Six self-propelled howitzers were removed Sunday from front line to the southern part of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic under monitoring of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The withdrawal of heavy weapons is a key part of the cease-fire and is meant to be followed with intensified monitoring by OSCE officials. Separatists are still restricting access for their observers, the OSCE said during the past week.

Financial Crisis

A pause in fighting may give Ukraine breathing space to deal with a spiraling currency crisis and the threat of Russia cutting off natural gas supplies. The nation is still awaiting a decision on disbursement of a $17.5 billion International Monetary Fund rescue. Investors are also nearing talks to ease terms on the government’s foreign debt.

The hryvnia has plunged more than 40 percent this year amid a deepening recession and international reserves are at the lowest in at least a decade. Ukraine’s central bank tightened capital controls this week and announced more curbs may be on the way to stop the currency’s meltdown.

“Panic must be stopped and we are doing that now,” National Bank of Ukraine Governor Valeriya Gontareva said on Friday in Kiev.

Gas shipments have been another flashpoint. A dispute reignited last week over supplies to rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. Russia demanded the government in Kiev pay to supply to the region, while state-run NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy refused and accused Russian exporter OAO Gazprom of failing to meet its fuel requests.

Naftogaz will cut gas imports from Russia to keep the fuel flowing for the next six days as the former Soviet republics prepare for EU-brokered talks in Brussels on Monday. The company will continue pre-paying Gazprom for supplies if the Russian company abides by an Oct. 30 contract, Naftogaz Chief Executive Officer Andriy Kobolyev said on Saturday in Kiev.

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