MINSK (Reuters) – Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels reached a ceasefire agreement on Friday, the first step toward ending fighting in eastern Ukraine that has caused the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War ended.
The ceasefire deal was struck in the Belarusian capital Minsk along with a deal allowing for prisoner exchanges, deliveries of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of heavy weapons after five months of a conflict that has killed more than 2,600 people.
Despite some initial shelling in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk after the truce began at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), the ceasefire appeared to be holding. But many residents and combatants were sceptical that the ceasefire could last long or provide the basis for a durable peace settlement. The two sides remain far apart on the future of the region.
Despite the deal, the European Union slapped new economic sanctions on Russia – the latest in a series of measures aimed at punishing Moscow over Ukraine. But the EU said the sanctions could be suspended if Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine and observes the ceasefire. A senior EU diplomat told Reuters implementation is expected on Monday.
Some provisions will make it harder for Russian state-owned firms to raise finance in the EU. Diplomats expect them to hit, among others, the oil company Rosneft and units of Gazprom though not the gas firm itself, a main supplier to the EU.
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