Ukraine agreed on a cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists to stem months of bloodshed as European officials met to consider more penalties on Russia for its role in the conflict.
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 monitor the agreement, 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.
Russia’s ruble, which had weakened almost 11 percent against the dollar this year before today, and the Micex Index (VTBMICX) of 50 shares extended gains after the deal was reached.
The rebels, though, remained defiant, with the leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitskiy, telling reporters that the cease-fire 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.
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 accord 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.