A “real truce” has begun in Ukraine, president Petro Poroshenko said on Wednesday, but a long-lasting peace with pro-Russian insurgents in its east would still take some time.
“There has not been a single shot fired. This is still not peace. This is not the end of the war,” the pro-Western leader said in a televised address.
“The end of war will come when every patch of Ukrainian soil is liberated from the enemy, the occupant, the aggressor. But this is not simply a ceasefire — this is a real truce.”
Mr Poroshenko’s comments to a group of military cadets in Kiev came one day after the separatists delayed, until next year, local elections they had planned for the coming weeks.
The conciliatory gesture came in response to strong Western pressure for Russian President Vladimir Putin to convince the militias to push back their vote.
Mr Poroshenko had called the planned elections “fake”, and branded them as another example of the eastern fighters’ refusal to commit to a February truce deal that was often broken but has been far more respected in the past month.
Russia and the European Union also welcomed the rebels’ announcement because it gave time for the elections to be conducted to conform with Ukrainian and international laws.
But Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin told politicians that no separatist polls could be held until Russia withdrew all its troops and military hardware from the war zone.
Mr Putin refers to the Russian fighters captured in the rebel regions as “volunteers” and off-duty servicemen who follow “the call of their heart”.
The 18-month insurrection, the bloodiest war in Europe since the Balkans crises of the 1990s, has killed more than 8,000 people and driven about 1.5 million from their homes.
It has also further eroded Mr Putin’s relations with Washington and Brussels — an isolation that threatens to escalate further with Russia’s current air campaign in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.