Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed separatist forces in the Luhansk region have agreed on a new ceasefire, international monitors said yesterday.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that under the agreement, hostilities were to cease yesterday along the line of contact between the warring sides.
It was agreed at negotiations that took place on Saturday that heavy weapons will start being withdrawn from the front at the weekend, the OSCE said.
Igor Plotnitsky, the head of the rebel movement in Luhansk, confirmed the ceasefire deal in remarks to Russia’s Interfax news agency, but said no definitive agreement had been reached on the breadth of the demilitarised zone.
He told Interfax the distance could range between ten and 13 miles.
Ceasefire deals have been reached before in eastern Ukraine, only to be swiftly violated. A broad truce was agreed in early September after all-party talks in Belarus, but hundreds have been killed since then amid daily violations.
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On Monday, a deal was reached to end fighting over the airport in the capital of the Donetsk region – but rocket barrages continued for hours.
There are concerns that any efforts to impose a ceasefire in the Luhansk region could be derailed by infighting among separatist forces.
Although rebel areas are nominally under the control of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, much of the territory is in fact presided over by Russian Cossacks, who have frequently demonstratively rejected Mr Plotnitsky’s authority.
There have been unconfirmed reports in recent days of fatal clashes between fighters of the Luhansk People’s Republic and Cossack units.
The OSCE said the Luhansk People’s Republic insists it is in control of all Cossack units.
US secretary of state John Kerry and European allies will meet this week to discuss imposing further sanctions on Russia if pro-Moscow separatists do not halt violence.
The EU and the US have both imposed sanctions on Russia’s financial, defence and energy sectors over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“There are continuing conversations with the EU about continuing to expand sanctions,” said a senior US state department official accompanying Mr Kerry to a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday.
“We will be having those conversations about where we go next, particularly in response to the continued supply of heavy weapons coming across the border [from Russia],” the official added.
But EU diplomats say there is little appetite within the 28-member bloc for more sanctions unless there is a further sharp deterioration of the situation in Ukraine. Russia is Europe’s leading energy supplier and many EU countries fear the sanctions and Russian reprisals could hurt their economies.
“Our role is also to explore ways for dialogue [with Russia],” the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said when asked about possible new sanctions.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has said he does not see the point of constantly threatening more measures.
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