Geneva: Russia and Ukraine reached a deal to supply gas to Europe until the end of March after President Vladimir Putin and Western leaders admitted there was still progress to be made in implementing a ceasefire.
The deal struck after tense talks in Brussels secures gas supplies to the European Union until the end of winter after they had been put at risk by a row over supplies to rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
Earlier, Putin spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German leader Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande and they agreed that “progress has been made, but the situation must be improved further”, according to a French presidency statement.
The leaders agreed to ask the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to play a bigger role in ensuring the two-week-old ceasefire is implemented, the statement said.
The UN said Monday more than 6,000 people have died in the Ukraine conflict in less than a year. Before the four leaders spoke, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both said they saw positive signs in Ukraine after talks in Geneva.
Kerry and Lavrov, speaking separately, both cautiously said the deal struck in Minsk on February 15 was on the right track, despite repeated breaches that have left dozens dead.
Lavrov welcomed “tangible progress” in the implementation of the peace deal, saying “the ceasefire is being consolidated, heavy weapons are withdrawn.”
Kerry, meanwhile, cautioned that there had been “a kind of cherry-picking, a piecemeal selectivity to the application of the Minsk agreements.” He said however he was “very hopeful” that his talks with Lavrov would help bring about the change needed to end fighting.
“Our hope is that within the next hours, and certainly not more than days, this (ceasefire) will be fully implemented,” he said. While fighting has broadly halted along much of Ukraine’s frontline, press photographer Sergiy Nikolayev was killed by a mortar shell over the weekend and eight soldiers were injured by rebel fire.
Ukraine’s army said Monday that one soldier had been killed, but the ceasefire was still broadly holding. Both sides have also begun to pull back some heavy weaponry from the frontline, but OSCE monitors have said it is too early to confirm a full pullback.
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