DONETSK, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels “agreed in principle” on a ceasefire in one separatist province and were working to conclude a broader truce on Tuesday that would end nearly eight months of bloodshed.
The latest push for peace in the former Soviet country was being spearheaded by European negotiators alarmed at the unravelling of a September 5 peace deal as tensions between the Russia and the West reach a post-Cold War high.
The Ukrainian conflict has killed more than 4,300 people and seen NATO fortify defences to help protect former Soviet satellite nations from what it sees as the Kremlin’s new expansionist threat.
Foreign ministers from the Western military alliance were meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to chart a course after what they have dubbed as a “year of aggression” by Russia against its smaller neighbour.
Moscow denies helping the separatists in eastern Ukraine and sees the West as trying to undermine Russia’s rightful influence in the former Soviet bloc.
The Russian foreign ministry issued a furious statement on Monday accusing NATO of “trying to destabilise the world’s most stable region” by sending extra defences into countries such as the three tiny Baltic states.
But the diplomatic standoff comes with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko – a pro-Western leader who won a May election vowing to reunite his crumbling state – facing growing domestic condemnation over the climbing toll of the war.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that a round of unannounced negotiations produced the outlines of a truce agreement in Lugansk – one of two pro-Russian provinces under rebel control.