MOSCOW — Ukraine’s government and separatist leaders signed a ceasefire deal Friday after talks in Belarus, raising hopes of an end to the nearly five-month conflict that has wracked eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said via Twitter on Friday that a preliminary protocol for a ceasefire agreement had been signed in Minsk and that it was is due to take effect Friday.
The self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic Twitter feed also said the ceasefire had been signed and that it would come into effect at 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET).
However, the ceasefire does not mean the end of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, separatist leaders said after signing it.
The talks brought together the leaders of the separatist groups with former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, as well as Russian representatives.
The details of the ceasefire agreement are not yet known.
Russian President Vladimir Putin set out a seven-point peace plan thought to form the basis of the negotiations after talking by phone with Poroshenko this week.
It included a halt by both parties of “any offensive military operations” in Donetsk and Luhansk, international monitoring of the ceasefire, prisoner exchanges and the opening of a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to reach civilians.
“Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence are not up for negotiations. They remain as they are,” Poroshenko posted on Twitter earlier.
As news of the deal broke, a CNN team in southeastern Ukraine witnessed continued fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists.
New sanctions on the table
Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of sending troops to aid the pro-Russian rebels — a claim Moscow denies.
News of the apparent deal came as European Union nations were considering a new round of proposed sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
“A decision on implementing them will only be taken in light of developments on the ground,” EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said earlier Friday.
“If there is a ceasefire agreed in Minsk today, member states would look at how serious it was and decide whether to go forward.”
Ukraine: Fighting continues
Despite the peace talks, the conflict in eastern Ukraine showed no sign of abating Friday morning.
Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the National Defense and Security Council, said that there had been 27 clashes in the past 24 hours, including at Donetsk airport, and that shelling from Russian territory continued.
There is increased fighting in the area of Mariupol, a southeastern port city, where Ukrainian forces have been bolstered to fight off a rebel advance, he said.
A CNN team in Mariupol witnessed shelling Thursday that indicated rebel forces were moving closer. The rebels seized the nearby Ukrainian border town of Novoazovsk last week, allegedly with the help of Russian forces, and have been threatening to advance on Mariupol.
“According to preliminary intelligence information, overall Russian losses over the period of the conflicts are about 2,000 killed,” Lysenko said. It was not clear if he was referring to Russian citizens or troops.
Lysenko added that the number injured could be four times as many, and they are being treated in hospitals in Russia.
Since the conflict began in mid-April, 846 Ukrainian soldiers have died and 3,072 have been wounded, he said.
Russia’s alleged incursion and the threat that its forces could move deeper into Ukraine have caught the attention of the West.
“This is the first time since the end of World War II that one European country has tried to grab another’s territory by force,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “Europe must not turn away from the rule of law to the rule of the strongest.”
Putin has voiced sympathy for the separatists, many of whom are ethnic Russians. But he denies that Russia has armed and trained the rebels, or sent Russian troops over the border.
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was important to go ahead with the plans for increased EU sanctions, to be discussed later Friday.
“If Russia ends up in an economic war, it will lose,” he said. “Of course if there is a plan and it is implemented then we can lift the sanctions off, but there is a great deal of skepticism as to whether this ceasefire is real.”
In July, U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union announced sanctions against Russia’s state-owned banks, weapons makers and oil companies, along with Putin’s top cronies, an extension of previous sanctions against targeted individuals and companies.
Moscow responded by banning imports of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy products from the U.S., Europe, Australia, Canada and Norway.
In what may be another retaliatory move, Russia’s federal consumer rights protection service banned all confectionery imports from Ukraine, Russian state news agency ITAR-Tass reported Friday. It said the ban was imposed to protect consumer rights.