Separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine have freed 648 Ukrainian soldiers under the terms of a truce signed last week that calls for both sides to release all prisoners, Ukrainian officials have said.
The pro-Russian rebels are expected to release another 500 soldiers, pending further negotiations that seek to bring an end to the some five months of fighting that have killed at least 2,500 people, the BBC reports.
The prisoner release appears to be the sole encouraging note in a cease-fire that has otherwise disappointed both sides.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Reuters on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces appeared to be building up their presence near rebel-held Donetsk, in possible preparation for an attack.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry blamed the rebels for cease-fire violations, telling the BBC that Russian-backed rebels were still shelling government positions in the Donetsk region. Five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past four days, Reuters reports.
The European Union is set to meet on Wednesday to discuss when and if a new round of sanctions, including some targeting Russia’s oil companies, should be levied on Moscow, the Wall Street Journal says. The E.U.’s decision will depend on whether the cease-fire appears to be holding, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, told the Journal.
Ukraine and Western observers have accused Russia of sending troops to Ukraine’s war-ravaged southeastern region and of supplying weapons to the rebel forces there. Moscow denies this and has threatened to close its airspace to international airlines if the E.U. sanctions go into effect.
Kiev has outright rejected the separatists’ demands for total independence in southeastern Ukraine, but says it will allow the region more autonomy.