Ukraine working to stabilise cease-fire, Merkel says

German chancellor Angela Merkel says Ukraine “is determined” to reach a more stable cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels in the country’s restive east.

Merkel, speaking at a joint news conference Wednesday in Berlin with visiting Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, said the Ukraine situation has been calmer since February 15, when a new cease-fire agreement brokered in Minsk took effect. Replacing a September cease-fire that had collapsed, it called for an immediate end to fighting and the withdrawal of heavy artillery to create a buffer zone.

“Ukraine, as it has said so over and over again, is determined to implement those measures,” Merkel said, adding that “Germany and France will continue to oversee that.”

But the Russian-backed rebels have not fully respected the cease-fire, Yatsenyuk said, according to the Reuters news agency. “The number of firefights has indeed been reduced,” he said. “And the Ukrainian side has implemented the cease-fire. Russia has not done so.”

Since mid-February, 75 Ukrainian troops have been killed, Yatsenyuk reported. But even though it has not been faithfully followed, the pact remains vital.

“At the moment, it is the only road map there is for us for a de-escalation of the situation,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Last month, Merkel said the European Union would not lift sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis until the conditions of the Minsk cease-fire agreement had been met.

New financial aid
To help Ukraine recover from the devastating conflict, Merkel on Wednesday pledged 500 million euros, or $538 million, with the majority targeted to updating infrastructure, the health system and economy.

Meanwhile, Russian-backed rebel authorities in eastern Ukraine started paying pensions in Russian rubles Wednesday. The finance minister of the Donetsk region said pension payments in the separatist-controlled areas will total about 1.9 billion rubles, or more than $30 million, for the month of March.