10:10 Sep. 14, 2016
Heads of the self-proclaimed separatist republics claim they have always been committed to the Minsk peace agreements
Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday announced a unilateral cease-fire starting at midnight Wednesday, which could be a major step in solving the conflict that has raged for more than two years, Associated Press reports.
The conflict between Russian-backed militants and Ukrainian government troops has killed more than 9,500 people since it began in April 2014. Representatives of Ukraine, the separatists and Russia signed a February 2015 Minsk peace deal brokered by France and Germany, but fighting never ended and armed clashes continue to claim lives in eastern Ukraine.
Alexander Zakharchenko, separatist leader in Donetsk, made the cease-fire announcement in a recorded statement aired on Russian television on Tuesday, blaming Kyiv for a "lack of willingness to solve the problem in a peaceful manner."
Zakharchenko said he has ordered his troops to cease fire at midnight Wednesday and urged Ukraine to do the same.
Wearing a suit instead of his normal camouflage for the televised statement, the separatist leader said Donetsk is "fully committed to the Minsk agreements" and sees them as "the only solution."
Igor Plotnitsky, leader of the self-proclaimed part of the Luhansk region, also announced a cease-fire on Tuesday.
It's the first time that the separatists, who are widely believed to be controlled by Moscow, have come with an idea of a unilateral cease-fire.
At least three government troops have been killed and 15 wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours, officials said. One more person was reported missing.
In Donetsk, a local news agency said three of its men have been killed.
The announcement comes a few hours after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he expects parliament to vote soon on constitutional amendments granting more autonomy to Ukrainian provinces, including the rebellious eastern regions.
"Decentralization is a policy that has no alternative," Poroshenko tweeted Tuesday. "I expect the Verkhovna Rada to support the constitutional amendments regarding decentralization."
Ukraine has blamed Russia for not doing enough to get the militant forces to relinquish control over parts of the Ukrainian-Russian border while Russia is unhappy that Ukraine still has not adopted the constitutional amendments.
On Wednesday, Poroshenko is set to meet with top diplomats from France and Germany, and also hold separate talks with the foreign ministers of Britain and Poland in what appears to be part of a diplomatic blitz to discuss the conflict settlement.