A pro-Russian rebel leader in Ukraine's breakaway east said Monday that separatist groups would observe a weeklong ceasefire, a move that raises hope of a breakthrough in the crisis but could nonetheless be undone by fighting on the ground.
Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, said rebels would lay down their arms in line with a cease-fire declared Friday by the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
"The consultation ended with authorities of the Luhansk and Donetsk Republics agreeing to maintain a ceasefire for their part until the 27th," Borodai said, following the first face-to-face meeting between separatists and intermediaries from the Ukrainian and Russian governments.
It comes despite claims from both sides of numerous violations of the proposed ceasefire over the weekend and amid ongoing skepticism over the chances of a more permanent peace.
Borodai’s comments came after Monday’s meeting in Donetsk attended by, among others, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, Moscow’s envoy to Kiev and a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In addition to stating that rebels would lay down their guns, Borodai promised the release of observers from OSCE being held hostage.
The negotiations are in line with Poroshenko's peace plan announced last week.
Russia has welcomed the peace plan but urged the Ukrainian government to engage in direct talks with the rebels, instead of sending intermediaries.
In a statement Monday that followed a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, the Kremlin said that in order to normalize the situation in the east, Kiev needed to “effectively end fighting and start direct talks between the conflicting parties.”
But Poroshenko has ruled out talks with rebels that he has described as "terrorists." As such, relying on Kuchma as a diplomatic go-between offered a way to conduct talks without the government's formal engagement.
Kuchma, who served as president from 1994-2005, was born in the country’s east and is seen to be an astute political player respected by both sides. His ex-chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk — who was also in eastern Ukraine to broker the talks — has lived in Russia and reportedly has close ties to Putin.
The talks came despite sporadic violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Moscow groups over the weekend undermining ceasefire efforts.
Hours after the government announced the unilateral action — which with Monday's development has become a more general agreement — authorities accused rebel groups of attacking military bases on the Russian border. Fighting also broke out on Sunday.
The fresh attacks have led some to conclude that even with the latest pronouncement by Borodai, it will be difficult to enforce a ceasefire on the ground.