Russia and Ukraine have agreed to a ceasefire, restoring the terms put in place in 2020. The agreement was brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but the defense ministry in Moscow said it was still carrying out military exercises in the area on Thursday and Friday.
Senior Ukraine politicians praised the deal and described it as a significant step towards de-escalation in eastern Ukraine.
"There is a sense of a real possibility for the first time in a long while to ensure a ceasefire on the contact line," said Andriy Kostin, a Ukraine diplomat involved in the talks.
Mikko Kinnunen, the OSCE chair, released a statement that read: "I was delighted that participants expressed their strong determination to fully adhere to the measures to strengthen the ceasefire agreement of July 22, 2020."
Ukraine has previously accused Russia of sending 100,000 troops to the border in what it warned could be the beginning of "a winter invasion." Russian officials have vehemently denied this despite continuing with exercises in the area.
The U.S. and major European countries have warned the Kremlin of the repercussions of launching an attack, with U.S. President Joe Biden telling Russian President Vladimir Putin in a video conference earlier this month that "there will be severe consequences, economic consequences like none he [Putin] has ever seen." Germany will welcome the news of a ceasefire after expressing alarm at Russia's troop movements and demanding essential dialogue "to try to defuse a major crisis."
Putin has raised strong concerns of his own, demanding guarantees that NATO will abandon military activity in Eastern Europe. During his annual news conference on Thursday, he accused NATO of the continued expansion of its military threat.
Several ceasefire agreements have been announced in the past but eventually collapsed. The deal in July 2020 brought some respite, but clashes have continued as the total death toll for the conflict passed 13,000.
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg signaled plans for talks with Russia early next year but wouldn't yield over demands from Moscow not to bring Ukraine into the alliance: "Any dialogue with Russia has, of course, to respect the core principles which European security has been based on."
Putin was positive about potential talks with Washington, confirming in his end-of-year address: "The ball is in their court. They need to provide us with some answers."