Ukraine seeks concrete steps from Russia on truce

Ukraine seeks concrete steps from Russia on truce
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko

KIEV - Ukraine on Saturday sought concrete steps from Russia to back up a tenuous truce it extended with pro-Moscow rebels in the hope of calming a deadly insurgency sparked by its new westward course.

President Petro Poroshenko returned triumphant from Brussels on Friday having opened the way to Ukraine's eventual membership in the European Union by signing the final chapters of a landmark free trade and political association accord.

The 1,200-page tome spells out the minute details of the terms under which the splintered ex-Soviet nation will slip from the Kremlin's embrace and tie its future to European economic standards and values on human rights.

But Poroshenko had ordered his top security chiefs to meet him at the airport on landing in order to make a fateful decision about prolonging an expiring truce with rebels who have seized effective control of Ukraine's industrial east.

The 12-week insurgency has killed more than 440 people and is viewed by both Kiev and its Western allies as Russian President Vladimir Putin's retribution for the February toppling of a leader who had ditched the very EU accord Poroshenko had signed in Brussels in favour of closer ties to the Kremlin.

Poroshenko ultimately decided to extend the shacky ceasefire until Monday evening under the condition that Russia requires the insurgents to return border crossings to Ukrainian forces and set up a monitoring mechanism for a long-term truce.

The Ukrainian military on Saturday reported sporadic attacks by pro-Russian gunmen that resulted in no casualties and appeared to be on the decline in comparison to previous days.

Pressure on Putin

Poroshenko is expected to enlist the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande when he places a scheduled call to Putin on the eve of the ceasefire's expiry.

Sunday's teleconference - the second in four days - is primarily meant to check on any visible shift in Moscow before the European Union and Washington consider unleashing biting sanctions against Russia's financial and defence sectors the following day.

Putin has publically backed the ceasefire's extensions and promoted direct talks between Poroshenko and top rebel commanders.

But the West wants the Kremlin chief to call on the fighters to lay down their weapons and relinquish control of state buildings they had seized across a dozen eastern cities and towns.

EU leaders agreed at their Brussels summit "to reconvene at any time to adopt further significant restrictive measures if a detailed list of concrete steps are not taken by Russia and the separatists by Monday." The United States stressed that it was also ready to act at any point.

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