Ukraine has halted its mission to recapture buildings in towns held by Russian separatists for Easter. Though the holiday has brought an uneasy truce, tensions remain high.
On Saturday, a spokeswoman from the SBU state security service said that an "anti-terrorist operation" to clear occupied buildings in Ukraine has been suspended, and that the decision was "linked to the implementation of the Geneva agreement and the Easter holidays."
The militants who took control of police stations and public buildings in about a dozen eastern cities have shown no signs of budging since Thursday's agreement, struck in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union, which called for them to lay down their arms.
Statements from leaders among the militants indicate that they expect the interim government in Kyiv - established after the fall of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych - to step down first.
OSCE pushing for implementation
Meanwhile, Russia is facing pressure from the United States to start implementing the Geneva plan. Overnight, US Secretary of State John Kerry told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that "full and immediate compliance" was required and that "the next few days would be a pivotal period for all sides to implement the statement's provisions." Under the deal, Russia is expected to convince the separatists in eastern Ukraine to pull back.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) met with acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia and representatives from Russia, the US and EU on Saturday to discuss practical implementation of the Geneva plan. The head of the OSCE's special Ukraine mission, Ertugrul Apakan, said he was sending a deputy to eastern Ukraine on Saturday to work on the "practical modalities of the implementation."
Speaking in an interview with state-run Rossiya television on Saturday, Vladimir Putin said he hoped that relations between the Kremlin and the West would normalize by the end of this year. The Russian president placed at least part of the blame for the current tensions on the United States and its allies.
"I believe there is nothing preventing us from improving relations and from normal cooperation," Putin said. "This does not depend on us. Or not on us only. This depends on our counterparts," the president added.
Though Putin did not outline any specific measures that the West should take to improve relations, he did indicate that a perceived lack of respect was at the heart of the problem, accusing the West of treating Russia like a "guilty schoolboy."
mz,pfd/mkg (AP, Reuters, AFP)