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Russian, Ukrainian Presidents discuss ceasefire

Patrolling a porous border: Ukrainian troops have been unable to stop volunteers and heavy weaponry flooding into breakaway regions in its east.Patrolling a porous border: Ukrainian troops have been unable to stop volunteers and heavy weaponry flooding into breakaway regions in its east.
Patrolling a porous border: Ukrainian troops have been unable to stop volunteers and heavy weaponry flooding into breakaway regions in its east.SERGEY BOBOK AFP--Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko talked for the first time about arranging a ceasefire in the conflict raging in eastern Ukraine.

Statements on the two presidents’ websites confirmed the first official contact between the two presidents since they met briefly at ceremony’s to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy two weeks ago.

The telephone call followed four days of escalating violence and economic pressure. On Tuesday, only a day after Russia said it would stop supplies of natural gas to Ukraine, a pipeline carrying Russian gas across Ukraine to the European Union was hit by an explosion.

In a separate incident, two Russian journalists working for state television were killed by Ukrainian mortar fire. Russian gas monopoly says it is still supplying gas to E.U. customers, and will use alternative pipelines running through Belarus and Poland, and a new one that runs to Germany under the Baltic Sea to ensure that supplies aren’t disrupted.

Ukrainian security officials, meanwhile, said they were investigating the possibility of terrorism regarding the pipeline blast. Poroshenko had wanted to force a ceasefire by the end of last week but government forces had struggled to make headway against the rebels in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

At the weekend, pro-Russian separatists had shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane, killing all 49 servicemen aboard.

Separately, Poroshenko also had a telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel late Tuesday, in which he repeated calls for E.U. and U.S. help in regaining control of Ukraine’s border with Russia. Ukraine has been unable to stop the flow of Russian volunteers and equipment–including three Soviet-era tanks–across its border, not least due to heavy losses inflicted on its border guard service by the rebels.

He also noted that Ukraine intends to sign the economic chapters of an association agreement with the E.U. on June 27, a move which will put the country on a path to integration with Europe, if not E.U. membership.

That puts the seal on a change of course for Ukraine, whose last president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by violent protests after choosing a trade and integration deal with Russia.

Russia’s benchmark stock index was up 0.5% at lunchtime in Moscow. Stocks have regained almost all their losses since the start of the crisis, despite the imposition of sanctions by the U.S. and E.U, following the annexation of Crimea.