KIEV: Ukraine’s pro-Russian in–surgents have agreed to a tem–porary ceasefire and talks with the new Western-backed president, as US President Barack Obama warned Russia it risks fresh sanctions over its support for the separatists.
The surprise ceasefire an–nouncement from the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly threw his weight behind Kiev’s peace overtures and urged the separatists to halt fire.
Ukraine’s security services confirmed on Monday evening that militia strikes in the two heavily-Russified industrial regions that have been at the heart of the insurgency came to an abrupt halt in the late afternoon.
The self-proclaimed prime minister of Donetsk said his side’s ceasefire would match the one earlier ordered by President Petro Poroshenko and last until Friday morning.
“In response to the ceasefire declared by Kiev, we pledge to also halt fire on our part. This ceasefire will last until June 27,” Oleksandr Borodai told Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency in Donetsk.
“We hope that during the period in which both sides halt fire, we will be able to agree and begin consultations about hol–ding negotiations about a peace–ful settlement to the conflict,” he told Russian state television in separate comments.
The White House said Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Monday that Russia would face new sanctions if it fails to stop the flow of weapons into Ukraine.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama used the call to drive home consistent US and Western warnings on Ukraine—that Russia must stop supporting separatists in the east of the country and halt the flow of weapons across the border.
“Though we believe a diplo–matic solution is still possible, Russia will face additional costs if we do not see concrete actions to de-escalate the situation,” Earnest stressed.
The Kremlin said only that Putin “stressed that a genuine cessation of fighting and the start of direct talks between the warring sides would have the highest priority for the norma–lization of the situation.”
While Obama spoke to Putin, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Poroshenko for the second time in as many days, and told him Washington would “continue to strongly support” his peace plan.
Tanks being readied
Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Washington had new information that tanks were being readied at a site in southwestern Russia to be sent into eastern Ukraine.
Washington said last week that a number of Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers had already made the trip across the border.
The rebel’s ceasefire announce–ment delivered a desperately-needed boost to Poroshenko two weeks into a presidency that is scrambling to stamp out both a deadly uprising and an economic meltdown that has been com–pounded by a cut in Russian gas deliveries last week.
But they also appear to confirm Putin’s decisive say in the insurgents’ actions—a point disputed by the Kremlin, and one that appeared in doubt when the two separatist regions declared independence despite being urged by Russia not to do so in May.
Poroshenko has been pressing world leaders to follow through with their threat to unleash devastating economic sanctions against Russia should Putin fail to immediately end his perceived military and diplomatic backing for the insurgency.
The new Kiev leader will also sign a historic European Union (EU) trade pact on Friday that crowns his May 25 election promise to make the decisive move westward—one strongly resisted by Russia, and that lies at the heart of the current crisis.