Ukraine's President says the situation in the country's wartorn east has changed 'radically' since a truce was signed last week. Poroshenko also promised to act quickly to grant more autonomy to pro-Russian regions.
Speaking to a cabinet meeting in Kyiv, President Petro Poroshenko (pictured right) said on Wednesday that since a deal was signed between representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the separatists on Friday in Minsk, the fighting between government soldiers and pro-Russia separatists had wound down.
"Before the ceasefire was announced, Ukraine was losing the lives of dozens of its heroes on a daily basis," he said, though acknowledging that enforcing the ceasefire remained difficult.
"The terrorists constantly attempt to provoke the Ukranian forces," Poroshenko said. Ukraine's government and media regularly call the pro-Russia separatists terrorists. Poroshenko added that most Russian troops in eastern Ukraine had left the region, boosting the prospects for peace.
"According to the latest information that I have received from our intelligence, 70 percent of Russian troops have been moved back across the border," he said.
Russia has repeatedly denied arming the separatists or sending its own troops to help them, despite what Ukraine and the West say is overwhelming evidence that they have. European Union ambassadors were on Wednesday due to discuss imposing new sanctions against Russia.
Poroshenko also said Kyiv was regrouping its troops in the east in a defensive maneuver and that 700 Ukrainians had been freed from separatist captivity, with another 500 due to be released this week. A prisoner exchange was part of the Minsk deal.
The Organization for Securtiy and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also announced that they will deploy drones as a further step to the ceasefire procedure. OSCE chairman Didier Burkhalter told a forum in Prague that the organization's drones would join 70 specialists already working in the area to monitor the peace process.
Yes to more autonomy, no to federalization
Poroshenko announced he would submit a draft plan to parliament next week which would give a special status, including more autonomy, to parts of the mostly Russian-speaking regions controlled by the separatists.
He stressed to the cabinet meeting that the deal did not mean Ukraine, an ex-Soviet state, would be giving up territory or embracing federalization.
"There is and can be no talk of federalization or some estrangement," he told the meeting, saying that his plan would be to keep the regions as part of Ukraine, adding that the country "will not make any concessions on issues of its territorial integrity."
However, the separatists still want to split from Kyiv's rule.
"We are not considering remaining part of Ukraine," Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told the AFP news agency in Moscow.
More than 2,500 people have been killed in five months of violence in eastern Ukraine after pro-Russia separatists launched an uprising and clashed with Ukrainian forces. Some half a million people in the region have fled their homes.
se/es (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)