Ukraine, rebels sign ceasefire deal as EU leaders consider sanctions on Russia

Posted at 11:56 AM, Sep 05, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-05 12:00:47-04

MOSCOW (CNN) — Ukraine’s government and separatist leaders signed a ceasefire deal Friday after talks in Belarus, raising hopes of an end to the nearly five-month conflict that has wracked eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a written statement that he had ordered his top general to cease fire from 6 p.m. local time (11a ET.)

The decision was made “on the basis of the call by the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the leaders of the unlawful armed groups in Donbas to cease fire” and the signature of the truce protocol in Belarus, he said. Donbas is a term used to refer to the eastern Ukraine region.

Speaking to reporters shortly afterward at a NATO summit in Wales, Poroshenko said the ceasefire deal was based on his peace plan and an agreement reached in a phone call this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Poroshenko said the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine were key to the 12-point plan. He also said he hoped the exchange of prisoners would start in the near future, perhaps as soon as Saturday.

Poroshenko also said he was “very satisfied” with the NATO summit.

In his written statement, Poroshenko said he had 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.

“The entire world strives for peace, the entire Ukraine strives for peace, including millions of Donbas residents,” he said. “The highest value is human life. We must do everything possible and impossible to terminate bloodshed and put an end to people’s suffering.”

The self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic Twitter feed also said the ceasefire had been signed and that it would come into effect at 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET).

However, the ceasefire does not mean the end of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, separatist leaders said at a televised news conference after signing it.

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

Seven-point plan

The talks in the capital of Belarus, Minsk, brought together the leaders of the separatist groups with former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, as well as Russian representatives.

Putin set out his own seven-point peace plan after talking by phone with Poroshenko this week.

It included a halt by both parties of “any offensive military operations” in Donetsk and Luhansk, international monitoring of the ceasefire, prisoner exchanges and the opening of a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to reach civilians.

Immediately after news of the deal broke, a CNN team in southeastern Ukraine reported continued shelling in the area between the Russian border and Mariupol.

New sanctions on the table

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of sending troops to aid the pro-Russian rebels — a claim Moscow denies.

News of the apparent deal came as European Union nations were considering a new round of proposed sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

“A decision on implementing them will only be taken in light of developments on the ground,” EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said earlier Friday.

“If there is a ceasefire agreed in Minsk today, member states would look at how serious it was and decide whether to go forward.”

Ukraine: Fighting continues

Despite the peace talks, the conflict in eastern Ukraine showed no sign of abating Friday morning.

Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the National Defense and Security Council, said that there had been 27 clashes in the past 24 hours, including at Donetsk airport, and that shelling from Russian territory continued.

There is increased fighting in the area of Mariupol, a southeastern port city, where Ukrainian forces have been bolstered to fight off a rebel advance, he said.

A CNN team in Mariupol witnessed shelling Thursday that indicated rebel forces were moving closer. The rebels seized the nearby Ukrainian border town of Novoazovsk last week, allegedly with the help of Russian forces, and have been threatening to advance on Mariupol.

“According to preliminary intelligence information, overall Russian losses over the period of the conflicts are about 2,000 killed,” Lysenko said. It was not clear if he was referring to Russian citizens or troops.

Lysenko added that the number injured could be four times as many, and they are being treated in hospitals in Russia.

Since the conflict began in mid-April, 846 Ukrainian soldiers have died and 3,072 have been wounded, he said.

NATO warning

Russia’s alleged incursion and the threat that its forces could move deeper into Ukraine have caught the attention of the West.

“This is the first time since the end of World War II that one European country has tried to grab another’s territory by force,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “Europe must not turn away from the rule of law to the rule of the strongest.”

Putin has voiced sympathy for the separatists, many of whom are ethnic Russians. But he denies that Russia has armed and trained the rebels, or sent Russian troops over the border.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was important to go ahead with the plans for increased EU sanctions, to be discussed later Friday.

“If Russia ends up in an economic war, it will lose,” he said. “Of course if there is a plan and it is implemented then we can lift the sanctions off, but there is a great deal of skepticism as to whether this ceasefire is real.”

In July, U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union announced sanctions against Russia’s state-owned banks, weapons makers and oil companies, along with Putin’s top cronies, an extension of previous sanctions against targeted individuals and companies.

Moscow responded by banning imports of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy products from the U.S., Europe, Australia, Canada and Norway.

In what may be another retaliatory move, Russia’s federal consumer rights protection service banned all confectionery imports from Ukraine, Russian state news agency ITAR-Tass reported Friday. It said the ban was imposed to protect consumer rights.

CNN’s Matthew Chance reported from Moscow, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported from London. CNN’s Faith Karimi, Radina Gigova and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report. Journalist Victoria Butenko also contributed from Kiev.