Ceasefire Holding in Eastern Ukraine

Ceasefire Holding in Eastern Ukraine

A ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and separatist leaders appeared to be holding Saturday, a rare positive sign in a conflict that has ratcheted up tensions between Russia and the West, CNN reported.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian fighters have battled in eastern Ukraine since April, leaving more than 2,200 people dead, according to the United Nations.

A truce deal signed Friday after talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, went into effect Friday evening local time.

After roughly five months of bitter fighting, the question is whether the ceasefire will last.

Artillery fire and explosions were heard in the flashpoint Ukrainian city of Donetsk around the time the ceasefire went into effect, the city's website said. But there were no subsequent reports of major incidents.

A CNN team in southeastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces and pro-Russians have engaged in fierce fighting this week between the Russian border and the port city of Mariupol, said that artillery fire appeared to have stopped after the start of the truce.

Significant Steps

A NATO summit in Wales concluded that member nations would send nonlethal military aid and help modernize Ukraine's security forces, while the United States and European allies finalize measures to deepen and broaden sanctions against Russia.

The Ukrainian government and the West accuse Moscow of both arming pro-Russian fighters and sending Russian troops into Ukraine to aid them -- claims that Moscow has repeatedly denied.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the ceasefire deal was reached in a phone call this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We are ready to provide significant steps, including the decentralization of power," he said, as well as greater economic freedoms for the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and guarantees that their culture and language be respected. Many people in eastern Ukraine are Russian speakers.

The ceasefire, however, does not mean the end of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, pro-Russia leaders said at a televised news conference after signing the deal.

Poroshenko has asked his foreign minister and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which already has international observers in Ukraine, to monitor compliance with the ceasefire.

A previous unilateral ceasefire declared by the Ukrainian government in June broke down after 10 days.

New sanctions planned

Despite the truce signed Friday, Putin remains under international pressure over the crisis in Ukraine.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who hosted the NATO summit in Wales, said a package of EU sanctions "is being finalized in Brussels that will further increase the economic costs to Russia," he said.

Western countries in July stepped up targeted sanctions against Russia, prompting a retaliatory ban by Moscow on certain imports.

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