Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine agreed Monday to respect a cease-fire declared by the Ukrainian president, raising hopes for an end to months of fighting that have killed hundreds and ravaged the country’s industrial heartland.
The announcement came as the Russian and U.S. presidents traded demands over the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin urged direct talks between the government and the rebels. President Barack Obama warned Putin that Moscow will face additional costs if it does not help ease the crisis.
The insurgents’ pledge to respect the cease-fire came on the first day of talks between a former Ukrainian president, the Russian ambassador, European officials and the eastern separatists who have declared independence. While the government side was nominally not represented, ex-President Leonid Kuchma attended the discussions at the request of the sitting president.
The negotiations were launched in line with President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan, which started Friday with a weeklong unilateral cease-fire in the fighting that has killed more than 350 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Alexander Borodai, one of the rebel leaders who took part in Monday’s talks in Donetsk, said rebels would respect Poroshenko’s cease-fire, which lasts through 0700 GMT Friday.
The insurgents had previously demanded the Ukrainian military withdraw its troops from the east as a condition for any talks, so Borodai’s statement represented a softened stance that raised expectations that the cease-fire could hold. Even before the insurgents made their pledge, the government said that there had been no fighting in the east since Monday morning.