In a possible sign of progress, a leader of separatists in eastern Ukraine said Monday that the militants would honor a temporary cease-fire declared by the nation's president to help bring an end to fighting in which hundreds have been killed.
The announcement to reporters came at a meeting between a former Ukrainian president and leaders of the pro-Russia separatists at a militant-held building in the regional capital of Donetsk. Also at the talks were the Russian ambassador to Ukraine and an envoy from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.
Oleksandr Boroday, the self-styled prime minister of the breakaway "People's Republic of Donetsk," said separatist authorities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions would suspend hostilities until Friday, in line with a unilateral cease-fire declared by President Petro Poroshenko.
Boroday also pledged that the insurgents would release observers they are holding from OSCE, according to news reports. Eight monitors sent to Donetsk and Luhansk have been missing since May, the organization has said.
Defense officials in Kiev, Ukraine's capital, told reporters there were no armed incidents recorded between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday. Attacks on government forces had continued over the weekend despite Poroshenko's declaration Friday of a one-week cease-fire, the first step in a plan to resolve the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
Although initially skeptical, Russia has supported the truce and urged both sides over the weekend to negotiate a compromise that would protect the interests of the many Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
Leaders of the separatists, who seized government buildings and declared independence after protests drove pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich from power in February, had previously insisted that the Ukrainian military withdraw its troops and equipment as a precondition for talks.
Poroshenko, for his part, has ruled out direct negotiations with the militants, whom he has labeled “terrorists.” But by enlisting the help of a predecessor who comes from the east, Leonid Kuchma, Poroschenko’s government is allowing a dialogue to begin.
In a telephone call Monday with President Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the importance of "ending military actions and starting direct talks between the conflicting sides," according to a statement released by the Kremlin.
Obama asked Putin to use his influence to promote peace rather than “allowing the provision of arms and materiel across the border and continuing support for militants and separatists who are further destabilizing the situation in Ukraine,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington.
"Though we believe a diplomatic solution is still possible," Earnest said, "Russia will face additional costs if we do not see concrete actions to de-escalate the situation."
Times staff writers Parsons and Zavis reported from Washington and Los Angeles, respectively.