Ukraine Reports First Casualty-Free Day of Conflict in Months

Ukraine’s government said none of its troops were killed or wounded in skirmishes with pro-Russian rebels during a 24-hour period for the first time in months.

“This is very good news,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military, told reporters in the capital Kiev on Saturday. Still, some rebels continue testing a cease-fire accord with sporadic shelling and shooting, mainly near the cities of Donetsk, Artemivsk and Volnovakha, he said.

The European Union said it won’t lift the sanctions it imposed on Russia “until something really good happens on the ground” and reiterated threats of further penalties. The cease-fire deal brokered in Minsk, Belarus, last month isn’t “perfect,” but the “trend is positive,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said in Riga, Latvia.

The EU and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia a year ago for annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine. They extended those penalties in July after accusing the government in Moscow of sending troops and weapons to support the separatists, which Russia denies.

At least 6,000 people have died in 11 months of fighting, according to estimates by the United Nations. More than 1,500 of those were Ukrainian soldiers, Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, said at a session of the Security Council.

Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions aren’t complying fully with the requirement to withdraw heavy weapons, as they claim, and “no satisfactory cooperation is perceivable” with monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Friday.

‘Nuclear Option’

Movement of OSCE observers “continues to be limited by all parties,” and they can only verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons in “limited or individual cases,” Seibert said.

Rebels from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said Ukraine’s military was building up its forces near the Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol. The separatists see the reinforcements as preparation for a spring offensive, Russian news service Interfax reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier noted progress on the pullback of weapons from the line of contact and called for the OSCE mission to be increased to 1,000 monitors, according to a statement from Lavrov’s ministry.

The EU must be ready with new sanctions to allow it “maximum speed in reacting to any provocation,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said after talks in Warsaw with his Polish counterpart Grzegorz Schetyna on Friday.

While there’s much discussion about barring Russia from the SWIFT international-payments system, this would be “a very extreme” measure that would “have a very significant impact” on the Russian and global economies, Hammond said.

Cutting Russia off from SWIFT would be “the nuclear option in terms of sanctions, we’re all aware of that,” Poland’s Schetyna said.