The separatist leader in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region has announced a unilateral cease-fire starting at midnight on Wednesday.
In a recorded statement aired on Russian television Tuesday, Alexander Zakharchenko said he had ordered rebel troops to cease fire and urged Ukraine to do the same. He accused Kyiv of a “lack of willingness to solve the problem in a peaceful manner.”
The rebel leader's statement came as a cease-fire that went into effect on September 1 appeared to unravel. The Ukrainian military said Tuesday that three of its servicemen were killed and 15 wounded in the past 24 hours in fighting with the Russia-backed separatists, the first major casualties since the September 1 cease-fire came into force.
The warring sides had agreed to the truce during a meeting in the Belarusian capital Minsk on August 24.
Wearing a suit instead of his normal camouflage uniform, Zakharchenko said the rebels are “fully committed to the Minsk agreements” and see them as “the only solution” to end the hostilities. His statement came a few hours after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he expected the country's parliament to vote soon on constitutional amendments granting autonomy to eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko’s office said Tuesday that he will meet with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Poland and Britain on Wednesday to "discuss restoration of full operation" of talks between Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
It also said the four foreign ministers would "coordinate measures to exert pressure on Russia aimed at ensuring the fulfillment of the security component of the Minsk agreement by the Russian side," with "special attention" paid to "the advancement in the liberation of Ukrainian hostages in Donbas and Ukrainian political prisoners illegally detained in Russia."
The Minsk Protocol, signed in the Belarusian capital in September 2014 by representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the separatists, calls on Ukraine to decentralize power and adopt laws providing for self-governance in areas in eastern Ukraine currently controlled by the separatists.
Ukraine has accused Russia of not doing enough to influence rebels to relinquish control over parts of the Ukrainian-Russian border. Russia, for its part, has accused Ukraine of not adopting the constitutional amendments Moscow says it was obligated to introduce granting autonomy to parts of eastern Ukraine.
The conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government troops has claimed more than 9,500 people lives since it erupted in April 2014.