As Ukraine truce holds, Russia vows economic pain to its enemy


By Peter Leonard ,AP

KIEV, Ukraine — Fighting in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russian-backed separatist forces has ground almost to halt. That should be good news for Ukraine, but Russia looks intent to pile on the economic misery.

In a detailed op-ed piece Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev painted a grim forecast of Russian economic blockades ahead as Ukraine embarks on closer integration with Europe.

��The Ukrainian government has made its choice. And even if our neighbors have a poor understanding of the ultimate price they will have to pay, that is their right,�� Medvedev said.

Those ominous words came as a renewed truce in east Ukraine called for by President Petro Poroshenko is holding �X barring sporadic violations �X since it began last week.

More than 4,700 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in mid-April, U.N. rights investigators estimate �X and more than a quarter of those deaths came after a cease-fire in September that was routinely ignored.

Ukrainian authorities are hopeful, saying more peace talks are on the horizon.

The intensity of attacks on government-held areas has reduced notably and is now limited to mortar and small arms fire, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Monday. Separatists who have often accused government forces of breaking the truce agreed that violence has reduced dramatically.

Changes on the ground appear to reflect shifts on the diplomatic front.

While supporting the separatists, Moscow has said it accepts the rebellious east should remain part of Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the state news agency RIA-Novosti last week that pro-Russian separatists were prepared to re-enter a ��common economic, humanitarian and political space�� with Ukraine.

That position reflects the Kremlin’s desire to maintain leverage over its neighbor as a means of keeping it from ever joining NATO.

Although the separatist leadership in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions publicly deny that they taking orders from Moscow, rebel officials privately concede the Kremlin plays a direct role in their decision-making. Lavrov’s comments suggest an easing of staunch secessionist positions.

A few weeks ago, rebel leaders were vowing to expand the territory under their control. But last week, separatists in Luhansk made a show of withdrawing heavy weaponry from the front line.