NATO's top military commander says Russian forces are still operating in Ukraine and that a cease-fire is not working, but he expressed hope a new peace plan could bring progress.
U.S. General Philip Breedlove told reporters in Lithuania on September 20, "as to Russian forces on the ground, yes, they are still inside Ukraine," but he did not provide precise numbers.
His statement came as Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said in Moscow on September 20 that there were no Russian troops in
Breedlove, who was in Vilnius for a meeting of NATO military chiefs, said the September 5 agreement was a "cease-fire in name only."
He said violence levels, including the number of artillery rounds fired in the past few days, are as high as prior to the cease-fire.
However, Breedlove said he hoped the agreement announced on September 20 for the creation of a buffer zone between Ukrainian government troops and the pro-Russian militants will succeed in stabilizing the situation.
Meanwhile, violence was reported in eastern Ukraine on Septmeber 20, hours after the new deal was agreed in overnight talks in Minsk.
The Ukrainian military said one soldier was killed as troops came under rebel attacks in the Debaltseve area in the Donetsk region.
In Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, strong explosions occurred on September 20 at a munitions factory.
A local official, Ivan Prikhodko, said the explosions were triggered by an artillery shell, but it was not clear which side fired it.
The nine-point deal reached overnight in Minsk by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the rebels, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) aims to expand on progress made when the parties signed a cease-fire deal September 5.
Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who led Ukraine's delegation at the Minsk talks, said new provisions agreed by the so-called Contact Group include a requirement for the government and pro-Russian separatists to move heavy-caliber weapons back 15 kilometers, creating a 30-kilometer-wide buffer zone.
The warring parties also agreed not to use artillery, tanks, and other heavy weapons near cities and towns, to suspend flights by combat aircraft or drones over the region, implement fresh exchanges of prisoners, and place OSCE monitors along the disengagement line.
The chairman of the Supreme Council of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), Aleksei Karyakin, said between 300 to 500 OSCE monitors would be deployed along these disengagement lines and Kuchma said the OSCE monitors would also be stationed along the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Kuchma also said there was also an agreement to withdraw all foreign armed groups, military equipment, fighters and "mercenaries" from Ukrainian territory.
These agreements were due to come into effect within 24 hours.
The first deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), Andrei Purgin, said, "We hope for a complete cease-fire."
The self-proclaimed prime minister of the DNR, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, said the issue of independence for his separatist region and the Luhansk separatist region was not discussed at this latest round of talks.
Russian representative Mikhail Zurabov, who is also Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, noted since the signing of the September 5 cease-fire agreement hostilities in eastern Ukraine have decreased by what he claimed was some 70 percent.
Zurabov pointed to the exchange of more than 120 prisoners of war since the September 5 agreement as a sign of progress in de-escalation.
Karyakin of the LNR said the next meeting of the Contact Group could be held in about one week.
Another Russian Convoy Enters Ukraine
Meanwhile, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said Moscow had delivered what it described as a third shipment of aid to the rebel-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.
Spokesman Aleksandr Drobyshevsky was quoted as saying on September 20 that the "convoy has arrived in Donetsk and is being unloaded."
ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti reported the convoy of some 200 vehicles carrying 2,000 tons of food, generators, medicines, and bottled water reached Donetsk before returning across the border.
According to Russian media outlets, the Russian side "several times" invited Ukrainian authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross to inspect the cargo at the border "but they declined without providing any reasons."
However, officials in Kyiv complained that they received no notification of the latest convoy.
The first Russian humanitarian convoy crossed into Ukraine in late August.
Ukrainian authorities said they had not granted the Russian side permission to enter Ukraine and called the convoy's advance across the border a "direct invasion."
The second convoy crossed into Ukraine on September 13.