Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has scored a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election.
With nearly all ballots counted in the run-off vote, Volodymyr Zelensky, 41, had taken more than 73% with incumbent Petro Poroshenko trailing far behind on 24%.
He told celebrating supporters: “I will never let you down.”
Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev commented in a Facebook post that Russia wants Volodymyr Zelensky to show “sound judgement”, “honesty” and “pragmatism” so that relations can improve. Russia backs separatists in eastern Ukraine.
He said he expected Volodymyr Zelensky to “repeat familiar ideological formulas” that he used in the election campaign, adding: “I have no illusions on that score.
“At the same time, there is a chance to improve relations with our country.”
Petro Poroshenko, who admitted defeat after the first exit polls were published, has said he will not be leaving politics.
He told voters that Volodymyr Zelensky was too inexperienced to stand up to Russia effectively.
Ukraine is voting in the first round of presidential elections with current leader Petro Poroshenko seeking re-election but the surprise front-runner is a comedian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, along with former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, have expressed largely pro-European views during campaigning.
None of the pro-Russian candidates are seen as serious contenders.
If no candidate gets more than 50% on March 31, the top two will fight it out in a second round on April 21.
A total of 39 candidates are on the ballot paper, but only the three front-runners are considered to have any chance of victory.
President Poroshenko has significant powers over security, defense and foreign policy and the ex-Soviet republic’s system is described as semi-presidential.
The current leader, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs, was elected in a snap vote after former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled in the February 2014 Maidan Revolution, which was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a Russian-backed insurgency in the east.
The next president will inherit a deadlocked conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists in the east, while Ukraine strives to fulfill EU requirements for closer economic ties.
The EU says that about 12% of Ukraine’s 44 million people are disenfranchised, largely those who live in Russia and in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March 2014.
Separatist-controlled areas are boycotting the election.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, is aiming to turn his satirical TV show – in which he portrays an ordinary citizen who becomes president after fighting corruption – into reality.
He has done no rallies and few interviews, and appears to have no strong political views apart from a wish to be new and different.
The comedian’s extensive use of social media appeals to younger voters.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s readiness to speak both Russian and Ukrainian, at a time when language rights are a hugely sensitive topic, has gained him support in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east.
Opinion polls suggest Volodymyr Zelenskiy will have a clear lead over Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko in the first round, and would retain it in a run-off against either of them.
Petro Poroshenko, 53, aims to appeal to conservative Ukrainians through his slogan “Army, Language, Faith”.
The current president says his backing for the military has helped keep the separatists in eastern Ukraine in check. He also negotiated an Association Agreement with the EU, including visa-free travel for Ukrainians. During his tenure the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has become independent of Russian control.
However, Poroshenko’s campaign has been dogged by corruption allegations, including a scandal over defense procurement, which erupted last month.
The third main contender is Yulia Tymoshenko, 58, who has served as prime minister and ran for president in 2010 and 2014. She played a leading role in the 2004 Orange Revolution, Ukraine’s first big push to ally itself with the EU.
The front-runner among the pro-Russian candidates, Yuriy Boyko, says he would “normalize” relations with Russia.
On November 26, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was proposing that parliament back a 30-day martial law – half the length of that recommended by the country’s security and defense council.
President Poroshenko said he did not want the measure to affect presidential elections set for March 31, 2019.
The Sea of Azov on November 25 clash is the first time Russia and Ukraine have come into open conflict in recent years, although Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists and Russia volunteers in the east since 2014.
A number of Western countries condemned Russia’s actions.
In New York, the UN Security Council met to discuss the crisis – but failed to agree a Russian-proposed agenda amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and the West.
Mikheil Saakashvili has been leading anti-corruption rallies against Petro Poroshenko.
The Ukrainian authorities responded by giving him a deadline of 24 hours to hand himself in.
Mikheil Saakashvili’s detention was part of an operation “to disrupt a plan of revenge of pro-Kremlin forces in Ukraine”, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said on December 5.
Prosecutors, who say Mikheil Saakashvili is being funded by businessmen close to Russia, released audio and video recordings which they say proved he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the criminal group.
Mikheil Saakashvili said the recordings were fake.
If found guilty, the former president could face up to five years in jail.
Mikheil Saakashvili also faces the threat of extradition to Georgia, where he is wanted on corruption charges. He claims the accusations are politically motivated.
He previously served as governor of the southern Odessa region after being appointed by Petro Poroshenko in 2015.
Before moving to Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili served for almost 10 years as president of Georgia.
One Ukraine’s national guardsman has been killed and about 100 injured in violent protests outside Ukraine’s parliament, the interior ministry said.
Clashes between nationalists and riot police erupted after members of parliament gave initial backing to reforms for more autonomy in the rebel-held east.
National guardsmen were pelted with fire crackers and petrol bombs as explosions were heard.
The reforms are part of a peace plan to end fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Protesters led by the populist Radical Party and the ultra-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party – who fear the loss of the east to Russian-backed separatists – gathered outside parliament on August 31.
After a rowdy debate, 265 members of parliament out of 450 backed the first reading of the decentralization bill, granting more powers to areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, said some 30 people have been detained, including a Svoboda member who confessed to throwing a grenade.
He bitterly criticized Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, writing on Facebook that several explosive devices had been thrown by people wearing Svoboda T-shirts.
A policeman’s leg was torn off below the knee in the blast, Interfax Ukraine reported, while journalists at the scene were also reported injured.
Almost 7,000 people have died since the conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in March 2014, after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Pushing through greater autonomy for the rebel-held areas is a key part of the Minsk peace deal, originally signed in February.
During the summer, fighting between Ukrainian army forces and the rebels has escalated. But the two sides agreed last week to halt the violence on September 1, the day children in the region return to school.
Although the number of ceasefire violations appears to have fallen in recent days, OSCE monitors have warned that neither side was respecting the truce.
Under the draft constitutional changes going through parliament, there will be a special law covering local government in rebel-held areas.
However, parliament speaker Volodymyr Hroysman was adamant that would not mean special status for Donetsk and Luhansk, which rebel leaders have declared republics.
If President Petro Poroshenko is to succeed in pushing through the reforms, he will need the support of 300 members of parliament, seen as a tall order for the Ukrainian leader.
Petro Poroshenko is due to address the nation on the proposals and the violence outside parliament on August 31.
Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have agreed to begin to pull back heavy weapons from the frontline, Russian General Alexander Lentsov, who is involved in implementing the truce, has said.
Gen. Alexander Lentsov said the pro-Russian rebels had signed the orders to complete the withdrawal over the next two weeks, starting from Sunday.
It is not clear whether the move will be reciprocated by Ukraine.
This comes as Ukraine and the separatists exchanged 191 prisoners, a key part of the Minsk ceasefire deal.
It was the first step carried out successfully under the terms of the February 12 agreements signed in Minsk, brokered by France and Germany.
The exchange came as Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was considering “serious sanctions” against Russia following breaches of the truce, and that a decision would be made in the coming days.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said sanctions would not help solve Ukraine’s crisis.
Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainians – as well as a number of European leaders – are expected to take part in a “dignity march” in the capital Kiev on February 22, remembering the victims of sniper fire during protests last February.
Nearly 5,700 people have died since the fighting erupted last April Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to the UN.
This followed Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula.
Gen. Alexander Lentsov, a Russian member of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-operation (JCCC), said: “We have designated February 22 as <<D-Day>> as determined by the agreement from all sides. So from tomorrow [February 22] we will within the period of 14 days observe the agreement on the pullback of heavy weapons.”
He said the leaders of the self-proclaimed rebel Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics had already signed the orders.
“We hope for Kiev’s participation and help first and foremost,” the general added.
Petro Kanonik, a Ukrainian member of the JCCC, said Kiev had been informed of the rebel move, according to Ukraine’s Ukrainska Pravda website.
The pullout process had been due to start on February 17 and completed by March 3, but Gen. Alexander Lentsov said it would now take until March 7.
Ukraine and rebel forces accuse each other of multiple breaches of the truce, and there were reports of violations around Donetsk and the port city of Mariupol on February 21.
Yesterday, Ukraine’s military and the rebels completed the first exchange of prisoners after the ceasefire. A total of 139 Ukrainian soldiers were freed and 52 rebels.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted the news of the prisoner exchange, which took place near the front line town of Zholobok.
Some of the government soldiers were wounded and walking on crutches.
Petro Poroshenko originally said 140 soldiers would be freed, and Ukrainian officials said one more soldier would be released in the coming days.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for the deployment of UN peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin has denounced the Ukraine’s call as a destructive move.
The Ukrainian president’s call “raises suspicions that he wants to destroy the Minsk accords”, Vitaly Churkin said.
The Minsk ceasefire deal was reached a week ago but fighting round the strategic town of Debaltseve saw the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops there.
Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine also criticized the proposal.
Vitaly Churkin accused President Petro Poroshenko of seeking a new scheme instead of doing what he had signed up to.
“If one proposes new schemes right away, the question arises whether [the accords] will be respected,” he said.
The leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic described the call for peacekeepers as a violation of the Minsk accords.
The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, the four parties to the Minsk accords, held further talks over the phone on February 19.
The French presidency said the ceasefire breaches were denounced and the leaders called for “the implementation of the full package of measures agreed in Minsk” including a full ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and the release of prisoners.
Petro Poroshenko called for UN-mandated peacekeepers to enforce the ceasefire after fighting continued following the rebel advance on Debaltseve.
A police mission by the European Union would be the best format for a peacekeeping operation, Petro Poroshenko said on his website.
It would help guarantee security “in a situation where the promise of peace is not being kept”, he told an emergency meeting of Ukraine’s national security and defense council.
Nearly 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers withdrew from Debaltseve on February 18.
Petro Poroshenko said the withdrawal had been organized, but that at least six soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded.
Earlier, a senior Ukrainian military official said 22 Ukrainian soldiers had died in Debaltseve since the ceasefire came into effect on February 15. Rebel claims of a much higher figure have been dismissed by the government.
President Petro Poroshenko says the Ukrainian troops are making an “organized” withdrawal from the embattled town of Debaltseve.
Petro Poroshenko said 80% of Ukraine’s forces had left on Wednesday morning, February 18, with more to follow.
Fighting has raged over the transport hub, with pro-Russian rebels seizing control of most areas, despite a ceasefire deal.
Russia’s foreign minister said Ukrainian forces had been encircled and were forced to battle their way out.
“I’m reckoning that common sense will prevail,” said Sergei Lavrov as he urged the rebels to provide troops who surrendered with food and clothes.
Earlier, Vice-President Joe Biden accused Russia of violating the accord, agreed in Minsk last week.
Sergei Lavrov told reporters that the rebel attack in Debaltseve did not violate the ceasefire agreement, because the town was part of the rebel-held area at the time the peace deal was signed.
Eyewitnesses saw dozens of tanks and columns of weary Ukrainian troops retreating from Debaltseve on February 18.
“This morning the Ukrainian armed forces together with the National Guard completed an operation for a planned and organized withdrawal from Debaltseve,” the Ukrainian president said in a statement before travelling to the frontline in the east.
“As of now we can say that 80% of our units have left,” he said.
“We are expecting another two columns [to leave].”
The withdrawal comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine’s troops in Debaltseve to surrender.
International observers monitoring the truce have been unable to enter the town.
It has become a key prize for rebels and government forces, as it sits on a strategic railway line linking rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk.
Most of its 25,000 population has been evacuated but about 7,000 civilians are still believed trapped by the fighting.
The ceasefire, which came into effect on February 15, has been broadly observed elsewhere.
Rebel leaders in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic said on February 18 they had begun to withdraw heavy weaponry from the parts of the frontline where the ceasefire was holding.
The withdrawal was due to start no later than the second day after the truce came into effect and be completed within two weeks, creating buffer zones 30-85 miles wide.
Vladimir Putin has urged the Ukrainian government to allow its troops to surrender to rebels in the strategic town of Debaltseve.
The Russian president also said he hoped the rebels would let any captured troops return to their families.
Fierce fighting raged throughout Tuesday in Debaltseve despite a ceasefire deal signed last week, with rebels saying they now controlled most areas.
The UN Security Council called for an immediate end to hostilities.
On Tuesday evening a resolution drafted by Russia calling on all sides to respect the deal, signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk last week, was adopted unanimously by the council.
International observers monitoring the truce have been unable to enter Debaltseve.
Debaltseve has become a key prize for rebels and government forces, as it sits on a strategic railway line linking rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described rebel attempts to take the town as a “cynical attack” on the ceasefire.
“Today the world must stop the aggressor,” Petro Poroshenko said in statement posted on his website following a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I call on the permanent members of the UN Security Council to prevent further violation of fundamental principles and rules of the UN and the unleashing of a full-scale war in the very centre of Europe,” he said.
Speaking on a visit to Hungary, President Vladimir Putin said he hoped the ceasefire agreements would be observed by both sides.
Vladimir Putin said there had been a “significant reduction” in the intensity of combat since the truce came into effect over the weekend.
He said the conflict could not be solved by military means.
“I hope that the Ukrainian authorities are not going to prevent the Ukrainian soldiers from laying down their weapons,” he said.
“If they aren’t capable of taking that decision themselves and giving that order, then [I hope] that they won’t prosecute people who want to save their lives and the lives of others.”
Vladimir Putin added that the fighting in Debaltseve was “understandable and predictable”.
He said he had warned participants in the Minsk talks that – ceasefire or no ceasefire – encircled government troops would try to break free and the rebels would try to prevent this.
Meanwhile, sources in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said Debaltseve police station and railway station had been taken, and at least 80% of the city was under rebel control.
According to later reports, the city’s military HQ – where many government troops are based – has also been surrounded.
The rebels said that up to 300 Ukrainian troops in Debaltseve had surrendered, and Russian TV showed footage of what it said were 72 captured soldiers.
Ukraine said a group had been taken prisoner after an ambush but denied large-scale surrenders.
The Ukrainian military said there was intense fighting in the streets and confirmed that the rebels were in control of parts of the city.
Although Debaltseve has suffered weeks of artillery exchanges, correspondents say this is the first fierce fighting inside the town.
Most of its 25,000 population have been evacuated but about 7,000 civilians are still believed trapped by the fighting, according to Amnesty International.
The ceasefire, which came into effect on February 15, has been broadly observed but separatists insist the agreement does not apply in Debaltseve because they have the town almost surrounded.
Both sides have also failed to pull back heavy weapons from the front line.
The withdrawal was due to start no later than the second day after the truce came into effect and be completed within two weeks, creating buffer zones 30-85 miles wide.
Officials say more than 5,400 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, but the UN believes the actual death toll to be much higher.
Ukraine’s pro-Western government says Russia is supporting the separatists with troops and weapons, but the Kremlin has consistently denied this.
The ceasefire between Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine agreed in Belarusian capital Minsk has come into effect, though sporadic shelling was reported in some places.
Both sides ordered their forces to stop fighting from midnight local time.
However, they later traded accusations over reported artillery and mortar fire.
Fighting had raged near the besieged strategic town Debaltseve just hours before the truce, agreed by leaders this week in Minsk, was due to kick in.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel brokered the agreement on February 12 after marathon talks in the Belarusian capital.
Officials say more than 5,400 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine in April, but the UN believes the actual death toll to be much higher.
The fighting followed the annexation by Russia of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending troops and weapons to help the separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions – a claim the Kremlin vehemently denies.
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said army positions in the town of Popasna and near the villages of Zolote and Chernukhyno were fired on after the ceasefire.
Meanwhile, senior rebel defense official Eduard Basurin said Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve fired on rebels positions, prompting them to return fire.
Just before midnight, President Petro Poroshenko ordered the commander of what Ukraine describes as its “anti-terror operation” to observe the ceasefire.
In a national broadcast from the military headquarters in Kiev, Petro Poroshenko expressed hopes that “perhaps the last chance [for peace] won’t be lost”, adding that agreements “must be honored, and we are expecting that the ceasefire deal will be adhered to”.
The president said there was still “alarm” over the situation around Debaltseve, a transport hub where several thousand Ukrainian troops have been besieged by the separatists for days.
The rebels say they have completely cut off supply routes to Debaltseve, encircling the town. Ukraine denies the claim.
Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said earlier on Saturday that he considered the Debaltseve area was not covered by the agreed ceasefire.
European leaders have warned Russia that it could face additional sanctions if the 13-point ceasefire agreement is not respected.
President Petro Poroshenko has warned that a deal to end the war in eastern Ukraine is in “great danger” after heavy fighting ahead of February 15 ceasefire.
The Ukrainian president also accused Russia of “significantly increasing” its offensive despite the peace agreement reached in Minsk on February 12.
Meanwhile, the US said it was very concerned by reports of heavy weapons coming across the border from Russia.
Shelling was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk early on Saturday, February 14.
Fierce battles are also said to be continuing around Debaltseve, a strategic government-held town almost encircled by rebel forces.
More than a dozen civilians are said to have died in shelling in eastern Ukraine on February 13.
It is unclear who was behind the shelling but both the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions accuse each other of targeting residential areas.
France President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who together clinched the agreement in the Belarusian capital – are due to discuss the issue by phone over the weekend.
The UN Security Council will also meet in emergency session on February 15.
Correspondents say the fighting shows no sign of stopping.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Petro Mekhed said the rebels wanted to “raise their flag” over Debaltseve and the key port city of Mariupol before the midnight ceasefire kicked in.
“Ukraine is expecting an escalation and taking all necessary measures to be able to respond,” Petro Mekhed told reporters.
Rebel shelling killed two people in a cafe in Shchastya, near Luhansk, on February 13 as well as a child near a school in Artemivsk, a town near Debaltseve, according to Kiev-controlled regional authorities.
Meanwhile, the rebels said at least six people had died in shelling in the city of Donetsk and town of Horlivka. The rebels accuse government forces of shelling the towns.
“After what we achieved in Minsk this is not just shelling of Ukrainian civilians and residential neighborhoods – this is an attack on our Minsk achievements, without any explanations,” President Petro Poroshenko said.
“Unfortunately, after Minsk, Russia’s offensive operations have intensified,” he said, before adding: “We are still convinced that the Minsk achievements are in a big danger.”
There were also reports of a government offensive near Mariupol, the city between rebel-held eastern areas and the southern Crimea peninsula, which was annexed by Russia last March.
Pro-Russian rebels signed the peace agreement but key issues remain to be settled, including the situation in Debaltseve.
European leaders have warned Russia that it could face additional sanctions if the agreement is not respected.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the deal offered “a glimmer of hope”, but warned: “It is very important that words are followed by actions.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande have reached an agreement aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine following marathon talks in Minsk, Belarus.
The leaders announced that a ceasefire would begin on February 15.
The deal also includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges, but key issues remain to be settled.
The pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have signed the agreement. Thousands of people have died in almost a year of fighting in the region.
The deal is very similar to a ceasefire agreed in September 2014, which unraveled very quickly.
Key unresolved issues include the status of Debaltseve, a government-held town surrounded by rebels, where fighting is still going on.
Further talks will also be held on self-rule in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions.
President Francois Hollande said he and Chancellor Angela Merkel would ask their European Union partners to support the deal at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.
Angela Merkel said there was now a “glimmer of hope” but big hurdles remained, while Francois Hollande said “the coming hours will be decisive”.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said European leaders in Brussels would be discussing ways to “help and sustain the agreement”, but she ruled out the threat of fresh sanctions on Russia.
“I think today the issue is not going to be discussion of further sanctions… but rather positive ways the EU can contribute to make this first step just one of many others,” she told reporters in Brussels.
The US said the deal was a “significant step” but expressed concern over reports of continued fighting in eastern Ukraine, saying it was “inconsistent with the spirit of the accord”.
Last week, the US refused to rule out supplying “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine if diplomacy failed, but Russia says that would worsen the crisis.
Speaking after the talks ended, Vladimir Putin told Russian television: “It wasn’t the best night for me, but it’s a good morning.”
Petro Poroshenko – who had accused Russia of making “unacceptable” demands – said that “despite tension and pressure” Ukraine had not succumbed to “ultimatums”.
Russia rejects accusations by Ukraine and Western powers that it is supplying weapons and personnel to the rebels – who are seeking independence for the areas they control.
The separatists gave the agreement a cautious welcome.
In Luhansk, rebel leader Igor Plotnitskiy said: “We hope that thanks to our efforts today, Ukraine will change and stop firing at civilians, hospitals and socially important facilities.”
Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Kiev would be to blame if the ceasefire collapsed and warned that there would “be no meetings and no new agreements”.
More than 5,400 people have been killed since the conflict began. There has been a dramatic rise in casualties in recent days, with 263 civilians killed in populated areas between January 31 and February 5.
Minsk agreement includes:
Ceasefire to begin at 00:01 local time on February 15
Heavy weapons to be withdrawn, beginning on February 16 and completed in two weeks
All prisoners to be released; amnesty for those involved in fighting
Withdrawal of all foreign troops and weapons from Ukrainian territory. Disarmament of all illegal groups
Ukraine to allow resumption of normal life in rebel areas, by lifting restrictions
Constitutional reform to enable decentralization for rebel regions by the end of 2015
Ukraine to control border with Russia if conditions met by the end of 2015 [youtube wfjiPYru3T0 650]
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have announced a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine starting with February 15.
“We have managed to agree on the main issues,” Vladimir Putin said after marathon talks with Petro Poroshenko, as well German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Minsk, Belarus.
President Francois Hollande said it was a “serious deal” but not everything had been agreed.
Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting in the east of Ukraine.
The meeting in Belarus – which began on February 11 – was focused on securing a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and creating a demilitarized zone in Eastern Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin is to discuss a peace plan for east Ukraine with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian leaders by phone.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are pushing a plan to end bloody fighting between government and rebel forces.
Meeting the Russian president in Moscow on February 6, they agreed to four-way talks with Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko on February 8.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in the east since April.
Thousands more have been injured and more than a million have fled their homes.
Ukraine’s military reported continued shelling on February 7, accusing the rebels of preparing new offensives, while the rebels accused the government itself of attacking along the line dividing their forces.
Petro Poroshenko has called on the West for support up to and including weapons.
He made the plea at a security conference in Munich on February 7, when he brandished passports that he said were those of Russian troops in Ukraine.
Russia denies intervening directly in eastern Ukraine.
Angela Merkel told the conference in Munich that there was no guarantee diplomacy would succeed but it was “definitely worth trying”.
The plan is thought to be an attempt to revive a failed ceasefire deal signed in Minsk, in Belarus, in September. Since then, the rebels have seized more ground, raising alarm in Kiev and among Ukraine’s backers.
Francois Hollande said it would include a demilitarized zone of 31-44 miles around the current front line.
The French leader has described the Franco-German plan as “one of the last chances” to end the conflict.
“If we fail to find a lasting peace agreement, we know the scenario perfectly well – it has a name, it is called war,” Francois Hollande said.
The US is said to be considering pleas to send weapons to Ukraine.
Angela Merkel, however, said she could not “imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily”.
The statement put Angela Merkel in opposition to NATO’s top military commander, US Air Force general Philip Breedlove, who told reporters that Western allies should not “preclude out of hand the possibility of the military option”.
Vice-President Joe Biden said the US would “continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance not to encourage war, but to allow Ukraine to defend itself”.
“Let me be clear – we do not believe there is a military solution in Ukraine,” Joe Biden said.
“But let me be equally clear – we do not believe Russia has the right to do what they’re doing.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have arrived in Ukraine’s capital Kiev to present a new peace initiative.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is also in Kiev, said the US wanted a diplomatic solution, but would not close its eyes to Russian aggression.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels has killed more than 5,000 people since last April.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and sending regular troops across the border.
Russia denies direct involvement but says some Russian volunteers are fighting alongside the rebels.
Speaking at a joint news conference with John Kerry, Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: “We need to get peace. But we will never consider anything that undermines territorial integrity… of Ukraine.”
John Kerry accused Russia of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, saying that Russia had been acting with “impunity”, crossing the Ukrainian border “at will with weapons [and] personnel”.
“We are choosing a peaceful solution through diplomacy – but you cannot have a one-sided peace,” he said.
John Kerry added that President Barack Obama was still “reviewing all options”, including the possibility of providing “defensive weapons” to Ukraine, due to the dangerous escalation in violence.
The US is currently only providing “non-lethal” assistance.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said any decision by the US to supply weapons to Ukraine would “inflict colossal damage to Russian-American relations”.
Several senior Western officials have also expressed concern at the prospect of US arms being sent to Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier likened the option to “throwing more weapons on the bonfire”, while NATO commander Philip Breedlove said governments must take into account that the move “could trigger a more strident reaction from Russia”.
Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel arrived in Kiev on February 5, in what appeared to be a speedily arranged visit.
They met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who thanked them for their visit at “a very urgent time”.
Francois Hollande had said that he and Angela Merkel would present a new peace proposal based on the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine, which could be “acceptable to all”.
However, he warned that diplomacy “cannot go on indefinitely”.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 6.
A spokesman for the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin would discuss “the fastest possible end to the civil war in south-eastern Ukraine”.
Correspondents say it is not clear how the latest attempt will differ from previous, aborted peace efforts – but there is speculation that Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel hope to discourage the US from supplying Ukraine with weapons.
The talks in Kiev come as NATO unveils details of a plan to bolster its military presence in Eastern Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis.
A new rapid reaction “spearhead” force of up to 5,000 troops is expected to be announced, with its lead units able to deploy at two days’ notice.
NATO is also establishing a network of small command centers in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, officials said on February 5 that the European Union is adding 19 people, including five Russians, to its sanctions list over the Ukraine crisis.
Nine “entities” will also be targeted by the sanctions, which were reportedly agreed at an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers last week.
Fighting has intensified in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks amid a rebel offensive.
The fiercest fighting has been near the town of Debaltseve, where rebels are trying to surround Ukrainian troops. The town is a crucial rail hub linking the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Some 1.2 million Ukrainians have fled their homes since last April, when the rebels seized a big swathe of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
President Petro Poroshenko has ordered more troops to key southern and eastern Ukraine cities in case of a new rebel offensive.
Petro Poroshenko said the units were to protect Mariupol, Berdyansk, Kharkiv and the north of Luhansk region.
He spoke after meeting security chiefs in the wake of disputed polls in rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Petro Poroshenko said he was still committed to the current peace process but has proposed cancelling a key plank of the plan.
The peace process was laid out in a September 5 ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk, Belarus.
President Petro Poroshenko has ordered more troops to key southern and eastern Ukraine cities in case of a new rebel offensive
Angered by the elections, Petro Poroshenko has proposed scrapping a law that gives special status to Donetsk and Luhansk.
Both regions staged swearing-in ceremonies for their pro-Russian leaders on Tuesday, following the elections there on November 2.
Alexander Zakharchenko was inaugurated president of the Donetsk People’s Republic while Igor Plotnitsky was sworn in as president of the Luhansk People’s Republic.
The polls were held against the background of a conflict that has killed more than 4,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April.
Ukraine accuses Russia of arming the rebels and sending Russian regular troops across the border – a claim denied by Moscow.
Both the government and rebel sides have repeatedly violated the ceasefire.
Ukraine and its Western allies have condemned the elections in the east.
At the meeting of his security chiefs, Petro Poroshenko said the Ukrainian reinforcements would be for the “construction of fortifications” against a “possible offensive in the direction of Mariupol, Berdyansk, Kharkiv and Luhansk north”.
He said Ukraine remained “a supporter of the peace plan” and would adhere to its terms, which were agreed in Minsk by delegations from Ukraine, Russia, rebels and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will chair a crisis meeting of security chiefs, after a rebel-held vote that he said jeopardized “the entire peace process”.
Petro Poroshenko proposed scrapping a law, agreed under the September 5 truce deal, which gives special status to the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk areas.
Two pro-Russian leaders were declared the winners of Sunday’s polls.
Under the terms of the truce, Ukraine was meant to hold elections in the two regions in December.
The West says the rebel-held elections are illegal but Russia is backing them.
More than 4,000 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine since April.
Ukraine accuses Russia of arming the rebels and sending Russian regular troops across the border – a claim denied by Moscow.
Addressing the nation on TV late Monday, President Petro Poroshenko said he would hold a meeting of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council on Tuesday to propose abolishing the law granting special self-government to rebel-held areas.
Petro Poroshenko described the November 2 “pseudo-elections” in Donetsk and Luhansk as a “farce at gunpoint” which would never be recognized as legitimate.
Sunday’s polls, he said, were “a gross violation” of the Minsk agreement – a roadmap to a peaceful settlement agreed by Ukraine, Russia, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and also rebel delegations.
“We demonstrated to residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as to the whole world, that we are sincere in our desire for political settlement,” he said.
“The militants refused this opportunity.”
Ukraine and the West have always insisted the rebel territories must abide by the Minsk deal and hold the local elections under Ukrainian law in December.
The US said it condemned the “illegitimate, so-called <<elections>> held on Sunday” and was “concerned by a Russian foreign ministry statement that seeks to legitimize [them]”.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the polls were “a new obstacle on the path towards peace”, while Germany said Russia’s backing of the vote was “incomprehensible”.
President Petro Poroshenko will chair a crisis meeting of security chiefs after rebel-held vote jeopardized the entire peace process
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, warned Russia could face further sanctions as a result of its position.
Russia earlier said it respected “the will of the people of the south-east”. It called for a “sustainable dialogue” between the authorities in Kiev and the rebels.
Results released on November 3 showed Alexander Zakharchenko, the self-declared prime minister in Donetsk, had won the poll to become the head of the region. His party also came first in the parliamentary election.
In Luhansk, the incumbent rebel prime minister, Igor Plotnitsky, was declared the winner.
They are both expected to be officially sworn in later on Tuesday.
Both sides have repeatedly violated the ceasefire agreed in September.
The separatist insurrection erupted in the east after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula, weeks after Ukraine’s pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced out of office by mass protests in Kiev.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko begins a key visit to the US to seek further support to tackle what he describes as Russian aggression.
Petro Poroshenko will hold talks with President Barack Obama before addressing a joint session of Congress.
He is flying to the US from Canada, where he told lawmakers Ukraine had bid “the last farewell” to the USSR after signing an EU association deal.
Ukraine accuses Russia of supporting rebels in its east. Moscow denies this.
More than 3,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions since April.
A fragile cease-fire agreed on September 5 is holding, despite accusations of shelling by both sides.
The unrest in the east followed Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula in March.
Petro Poroshenko will hold talks with President Barack Obama before addressing a joint session of Congress (photo Reuters)
In Washington, Petro Poroshenko will also give a speech at the influential Atlantic Council think-tank.
During the state visit he is expected to push for closer political and economic ties between his former Soviet republic and the West, and seek further financial support for Ukraine’s struggling economy.
Petro Poroshenko has also been pressing for military assistance from the US to help defend Ukraine.
President Barack Obama – alongside with many other Western leaders – has condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but stressed that any military support would only include non-lethal equipment.
Both the US and the EU have recently imposed a new round of sanctions against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.
Addressing the Canadian parliament on September 17, Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine had “crossed the Rubicon” by ratifying a day earlier the association and free trade agreement with the EU.
“This was Ukraine’s last ‘farewell’ to the Soviet Union,” he said to loud cheering and applause from Canadian lawmakers.
The association agreement aims to bring Ukraine closer to the EU and away from Russia’s sphere of influence.
The deal lies at the root of Ukraine’s crisis. It was former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign it last November that triggered mass protests and his eventual fall from power.
Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian rebels have signed a cease-fire deal to end almost five months of fighting.
The two sides, meeting in Belarusian capital Minsk, agreed to stop firing by 15:00 GMT. However, the rebels said the cease-fire had not changed their policy of advocating separation from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, NATO has agreed to form a multi-national “spearhead” force capable of deploying within 48 hours.
More than 2,600 people have died since rebels stormed several eastern cities.
The takeover prompted a military operation by Ukrainian forces to retake the cities.
The rebels, who had largely been pushed back towards their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, made new advances in recent days.
Fighting was continuing on Friday around Mariupol, a coastal city about 70 miles south of Donetsk.
Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian rebels have signed a cease-fire deal to end almost five months of fighting
Earlier in the day, rebels appeared to be hitting Ukrainian forces hard, and large plumes of smoke could be seen as Ukrainian forces fired back with artillery and jet fire.
The West accuses Russia of sending arms and troops to back the rebels in eastern Ukraine. But Russia denies the allegations.
The talks in Minsk were brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and involved a former Ukrainian president, leaders of the pro-Russian rebels, and a Russian delegate.
Both sides agreed to stop fighting, and the OSCE said it would monitor the ceasefire.
President Petro Poroshenko said the ceasefire was based on a 12-point peace plan that included the release of “hostages”, which he said would probably happen on Saturday.
“It is very important that this ceasefire lasts long, and during this ceasefire we continue the political dialogue to bring peace and stability,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had been told of the plan during a phone call, he added.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia’s actions in Ukraine had been a wake-up call for the alliance, and had spurred the formation of the rapid-reaction force.
He welcomed the cease-fire, saying he hoped it “could be the start of a constructive political process”.
Meanwhile, the EU and US are expected to announced enhanced sanctions on Russia, targeting banking, energy and defense sectors.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the sanctions would contain a proviso that they could be suspended if Russia co-operated.
Russia has been criticized by western leaders for its “destabilizing” influence on the crisis in Ukraine, at the start of a NATO summit in Wales.
NATO and the UK warned that pressure on Russia would be increased if it did not change course in eastern Ukraine.
Prior to the summit, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko briefed US and EU leaders on earlier discussions on a cease-fire plan with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Some 2,600 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels.
The West says it has evidence that Vladimir Putin is supporting the separatists with training and arms, and has sent Russian troops across the border. Russia denies the accusation.
The conflict has forced more than a million people from their homes in eastern Ukraine, according to the UN estimates.
Ukrainian government forces have recently suffered several losses, after rebels launched offensives in both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and further south around the city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea.
Reports are emerging that the separatists have begun shelling the outer defenses of Mariupol.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters the summit in Wales is taking place in a dramatically changed security environment, with Russia attacking Ukraine (photo Reuters)
At least two military vehicles were seen on fire in the area, and eyewitnesses spoke of gunfire.
In a separate development, President Petro Poroshenko said “the implementation” of his peace plan – which includes a bilateral cease-fire – could start on September 5.
Petro Poroshenko said this depended on planned talks in Minsk between representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the pro-Russian rebels and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
During the two-days of talks, NATO leaders are also set to discuss the rise of Islamic State (ISIS), and Afghanistan where Taliban militants launched a deadly attack on a government compound on September 4.
Earlier today, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the summit was taking place in a “dramatically changed security environment”, with Russia “attacking Ukraine”.
“We are still witnessing unfortunately Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine,” he told journalists in Newport ahead of the summit’s official launch.
Correspondents say the summit is NATO’s most important for decades, as leaders faced the question of whether the alliance is equipped to deal with 21st Century challenges.
NATO is expected to approve plans to create a rapid response force composed of several thousand troops from member states, able to deploy within 48 hours.
European leaders are also set to discuss a new round of tougher economic measures against Russia.
Ukraine announces that President Petro Poroshenko has agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on a “cease-fire process” for the east.
His office initially reported that a “permanent cease-fire” had been agreed but later revised its statement.
The Kremlin stressed Vladimir Putin had not agreed to a cease-fire as Russia was not party to the conflict.
President Barack Obama has expressed solidarity with Baltic member-states of NATO on a visit to Estonia.
Barack Obama is in the Estonian capital Tallinn with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia and the leaders of Latvia and Lithuania, all former Soviet states which joined NATO a decade ago.
A NATO summit opening in Wales on September 4 is expected to back plans for a rapid response force.
Meanwhile, the rebels in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have said that there can be no cease fire until the government withdraws its forces.
The earlier version of the statement on the Ukrainian presidential website read: “Their conversation resulted in agreement on a permanent cease-fire in the Donbass region [the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk].”
Petro Poroshenko has agreed with Vladimir Putin by phone on a cease-fire process for eastern Ukraine
However, this has now been changed to: “Their conversation resulted in agreement on a process for ceasing fire in the Donbass region.”
The statement adds that Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin “reached a mutual understanding on steps leading to peace”.
In its statement, the Kremlin said a phone conversation had taken place on September 3 between the two presidents in which their points of view had “coincided significantly” on possible ways to end the crisis.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, clarified for Russian news agency RIA Novosti: “Putin and Poroshenko did not agree a cease-fire in Ukraine because Russia is not party to the conflict, they only discussed how to settle the conflict.”
A rebel spokesman told the same agency the rebels did not believe Petro Poroshenko was in complete control over Ukrainian forces in the east.
A spokeswoman for EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton said that work on new sanctions against Russia was continuing because the cease-fire had not been confirmed.
More than 2,600 civilians and combatants have been killed and more than a million people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine in April, when pro-Russian separatists there declared independence.
Russia has denied accusations by the West and the Ukrainian government that it is sending troops and military equipment over the border to support the separatists, who recently gained the upper hand against government forces.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is accusing Russia of invasion after deploying its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Petro Poroshenko’s remarks came as pro-Russian rebels opened a new front in the south by seizing the coastal town of Novoazovsk.
NATO says it has detected a significant increase of Russian arms being supplied to the rebels over the past two weeks.
Russia has denied that its forces have crossed Ukraine’s border. At least 2,119 people have been killed in four months of fighting.
The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting in New York on August 28 at 18:00 GMT to discuss the crisis.
NATO Brigadier General Niko Tak said there had been a “significant escalation in the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine” over the past two weeks.
“[NATO has] detected large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defense systems, artillery, tanks, and armored personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
President Petro Poroshenko is accusing Russia of invasion after deploying its troops in eastern Ukraine
“Russia is reinforcing and resupplying separatist forces in a blatant attempt to change the momentum of the fighting, which is currently favoring the Ukrainian military.”
More than 1,000 Russian troops are operating inside Ukraine, both supporting the separatists and fighting on their side, according to NATO.
However, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said NATO had “never produced a single piece of evidence” for its accusations. He said the only Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil were 10 paratroopers captured earlier this week.
On August 28, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting with his security council to discuss “the sharp aggravation of the situation in Donetsk region… as Russian troops were actually brought into Ukraine”.
“The situation is extremely difficult, but it is manageable enough for us not to panic and continue calculating our actions,” he told security chiefs.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said Russia had “unleashed a war in Europe”, adding that the world should take “effective steps”.
Government forces had made significant advances against the separatists in recent weeks, but these gains seem in doubt with rebels now operating in two distinct areas of Donetsk region.
Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko told Russian TV that between 3,000 and 4,000 Russian citizens were fighting in their ranks.
He said many of the Russians were former service-people or current service personnel on leave, insisting that all were volunteers.
Ukraine’s security and defense council confirmed reports that Novoazovsk had been captured by the rebels, whom they described as “Russian troops”.
It said it had withdrawn its forces to save lives, and that Ukrainian soldiers were now reinforcing the defenses of the strategic port city of Mariupol.
The port has until now been peaceful and cut off from rebel positions.
Pro-Russian fighters have been trying for weeks to break out of an area further north in the Donetsk region where they are almost encircled.
Analysts say the separatists could also be seeking a land link between Russia and Crimea, which would give them control over the entire Sea of Azov.
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in March.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko says a “roadmap” will be prepared to end fighting between troops and pro-Russian separatists in the east after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus.
Vladimir Putin said Russia would assist a dialogue, but stopping the fighting was a matter for Ukraine itself.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of arming the rebels, a claim repeatedly denied by the Kremlin.
“A roadmap will be prepared in order to achieve, as soon as possible, a ceasefire regime which absolutely must be bilateral in character,” Petro Poroshenko said after two hours of direct talks with Vladimir Putin in Minsk.
Earlier this year, Petro Poroshenko declared a unilateral ceasefire but accused the rebels of not following suit.
Prior to their one-to-one meeting, Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin also took part in discussions with the EU’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton.
The summit came after 10 Russian soldiers were seized in Ukraine’s east.
Petro Poroshenko met Vladimir Putin for direct talks in Belarus
More than 2,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk.
The two regions declared independence from Kiev following Russia’s annexation of the southern Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March.
In a statement on his website after the talks, President Petro Poroshenko added: “Our main goal is peace. We are demanding decisive actions which will bring peace on Ukrainian soil.”
“The logic of a peace plan was after all supported by all the heads of state without exception.”
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin said at a news conference: “Russia, for its part, will do everything to support this peace process if it starts.”
However, he stressed that it was up to the government in Kiev and separatist leaders in the east to work out conditions for a truce.
Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin reportedly agreed to hold further consultations between Ukraine’s and Russia’s border guard agencies.
The meeting came as part of a summit taking place under the auspices of the Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.