President Vladimir Putin has asked the upper house of Russia’s parliament to revoke the right it granted him in March to send the Russian military into Ukraine to defend Russian nationals and Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
Putin had asked the Federation Council to authorize the use of Russian military force in Ukraine after the country’s pro-Russian president was forced from power.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that the new step was taken to “normalize” the situation in eastern Ukraine, “and also in connection with the beginning of trilateral talks on the issue.”
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko welcomed the move, with his office saying Tuesday that he views it as Putin’s "first practical step” in support of the peace plan.
The White House, too, said it welcomed Putin's acceptance of the cease-fire but said tangible actions in de-escalating crisis will be critical in coming days.
Late Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Putin by telephone
to help implement Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko's plan for easing political tensions, starting with a cease-fire declared on Friday.
The White House said the president called on Putin to pressure Ukraine's pro-Russia separatists to observe the week-long ceasefire and to halt the flow of weapons across the border from Russia to Ukraine.
Also Monday, a leader of pro-Russian separatists battling Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine said the rebels will observe a truce until June 27, to run parallel with Poroshenko's cease-fire.
The announcement came as rebels joined Russian envoys and Ukrainian negotiators in talks aimed at ending the crisis gripping the former Soviet republic. Former president Leonid Kuchma represented Ukraine.
Kuchma told reporters that because of the deal "one of the key problems [blocking negotiations] has been resolved."
Officials say further talks are set for this week.
Russia's Ukraine Ambassador Mikhail Zurabov and Viktor Medvedchuk -- a close associate of Russian President Putin -- also attended the Donetsk talks, along with an envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and representatives of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk peoples republics.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian helicopter used for carrying military cargo was brought down by rebel fire near the city of Slovaansk in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday and nine people were feared dead, a government forces spokesman said.
Asked about reports that a helicopter had been shot down, the spokesman, Vladyslav Seleznyov, said: "Yes. It was brought down."
Asked about casualties, he replied: "There was a three-man crew, in all nine people.''
It was the second time a helicopter has been brought down by
rebel fire near Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold. On May 30, rebels there also downed a military helicopter, killing 14 servicemen, including one general.
Dmytro Tymchuk, a military analyst known to have good sources in the armed forces, said the helicopter today was downed by a shoulder-fired missile.
The dollar-denominated RTS index rose more than 1 percent, a five-month high, immediately after Russian news agencies reported Putin's move, citing his official spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The index was up more than 2.5 percent on Monday's close by 1014 GMT, surpassing 1,400 points for the first time since mid-January. The rouble was up 0.7 percent against the dollar from the previous close.
On Monday, the European Union threatened to impose further sanctions on Moscow if it fails to support Poroshenko's peace initiative.
The EU and the United States have so far refrained from imposing economic sanctions more broadly on the Russian economy, choosing instead specific sanctions against key individuals and companies after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula earlier this year.
Kyiv and Moscow have been locked in a tense standoff since late February, when Ukrainian protesters forced Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country after months of anti-government demonstrations in Kyiv. Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea weeks later in a move harshly condemned by Kyiv and a host of Western governments.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters