DONETSK, Ukraine — Pro-Russian separatists declared a cease-fire Monday in a surprise move that they said they hoped would lead to a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The announcement Monday came as rebel leaders met with representatives of the Ukrainian government in Kiev, including former President Leonid Kuchma, as well as the Russian ambassador to Ukraine and a representative of the acting chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“In answer to the cease-fire by Kiev, we commit to a cease-fire from our side,” said Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.
Mr. Borodai, a Russian citizen, said the cease-fire would last until Friday, matching the timeline of the cease-fire announced last week by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “We also hope that in the time of this bilateral cease-fire,” he continued, “we can agree to begin consultations about the introduction of negotiations about a peaceful settlement of this conflict.”
The officials met in Donetsk, the regional capital, on the 11th floor of the regional administration building, which had been seized by separatist rebels and remains under their control. A Borodai aide said talks would continue today.
Mr. Poroshenko on Friday declared a unilateral cease-fire by government troops clashing with rebels in the country’s embattled east and unveiled a peace plan to bring an end to the conflict. The plan proposed amnesty for rebel fighters who had not committed serious crimes, as well as safe passage for those who wanted to return home to Russia. It also called for decentralization of the national government, which would allow for greater self-rule in the east, though details of that plan are not yet final. The plan, however, did not call for negotiations between the government and the separatist leaders of the self-declared republics — a step that Mr. Poroshenko had ruled out throughout his campaign and since his inauguration June 6.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave cautious support to the peace plan, but said it must lead to talks between both sides. At the same time, the United States last week said it had evidence that Russia was preparing to send more tanks and artillery to the fighters in eastern Ukraine.
With tentative support from Russia and Ukraine’s Western allies, including the United States, the cease-fire provides a brief opportunity for the two sides to forge a more lasting agreement for the first time since masked gunmen seized cities throughout eastern Ukraine more than two months ago.
Shortly after the cease-fire was reported, the Kremlin said Mr. Putin and President Barack Obama had spoken by phone, and that Mr. Putin stressed the importance of direct talks in easing the crisis.
Maintaining a truce in eastern Ukraine will not be easy. There is little trust between the government in Kiev and the patchwork of militias and rebellious political organizations that have laid siege to the east. Rebel leaders, including Mr. Borodai, had previously accused Kiev of violating its own cease-fire, and intermittent fighting between Ukrainian forces and rebel troops has continued since Friday.
Those present at Monday’s meeting called it a “consultation,” and underlined that the talks were not negotiations.
Mr. Poroshenko had previously said he would not negotiate with armed “terrorists,” and just last week held a meeting in Kiev with what his administration called the “legitimate” leaders of eastern Ukraine to discuss the peace plan before he publicly declared the cease-fire.
“I’m happy that these talks took place, and that nobody undertook the resolution of the enormous complex of problems before us,” said Mr. Kuchma, who served as president of the country from 1994 to 2005. If the cease-fire holds, he said, then “God willing, a peace process will begin.”Russia - Eastern Europe - Europe - Barack Obama - Ukraine - Vladimir Putin - Russia government - Kiev - Ukraine government - Donetsk - Petro Poroshenko - Leonid Kuchma