Pro-Russian rebels free 4 war monitors

OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said the four observers were released and met by an OSCE official in the eastern city of Donetsk.

“They’re in good health, they’re in good spirits,” he said.

OSCE lost contact with four monitors from its Donetsk team and four monitors from its Luhansk team in late May. The members of the Donetsk team were freed earlier this week.

The second release followed a European Union summit Friday, where leaders decided not to immediately impose new sanctions on Russia for destabilizing eastern Ukraine, but gave the Russian government and pro-Russian insurgents until Monday to take steps to improve the situation.

The EU leaders said Russia and the rebels should work to release all captives, retreat from border checkpoints, agree on a way to verify the cease-fire and launch “substantial negotiations” on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan.

“We have fulfilled our obligations before the Ukrainian side. All eight observers have been released,” Alexander Borodai, one of the leaders of the insurgents, said after the release, according to news agency Interfax.

Ukraine on Friday signed a free-trade pact with the EU, the very deal that a former Ukrainian president dumped under pressure from Moscow in November, fueling huge protests that eventually drove him from power.

Moscow responded to those events by annexing the mainly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula in March, and a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine erupted the month after, leading to the developments that have brought Russia-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War times.

The United States and the EU have slapped travel bans and asset freezes on members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and threatened to impose more crippling sanctions against entire sectors of Russia’s economy if the Kremlin fails to de-escalate the crisis.

Earlier Saturday, Russia’s foreign minister accused the U.S. of encouraging Ukraine to challenge Moscow and heavily weighing in on the European Union. In televised remarks, Sergey Lavrov said that “our American colleagues still prefer to push the Ukrainian leadership toward a confrontational path.”

He added that chances for settling the Ukrainian crisis would have been higher if it only depended on Russia and Europe.

The weeklong cease-fire, which both sides have been accused of violating, expired Friday, but Poroshenko quickly declared its extension until 10 p.m. local time Monday. He warned, however, that the cease-fire could be terminated in areas where rebels violate it.

Borodai promised to abide by the extended cease-fire after Friday’s troika talks that included a former Ukrainian president who represented the Kiev government, the Russian ambassador and an OSCE envoy.

He rejected the EU leaders’ demand to retreat from three checkpoints on the border with Russia captured by the rebels, but invited OSCE to send its monitors to the border crossings and any other areas in the east.

Borodai also demanded that the Ukrainian government pull back its forces as a condition for holding meaningful talks to settle the crisis.

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