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foreign affairs

Obama skeptical of fragile Ukraine ceasefire: 'It has to be tested'

An open-ended ceasefire between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants seems to be holding, The Associated Press reports — but both sides are still on edge.

The agreement, signed on Friday by Ukraine, Russia, and Moscow-backed separatists, stipulates withdrawals of heavy weaponry, exchanges of prisoners, and distributions of humanitarian aid in eastern Ukrainian cities that have been hardest hit in the past four months. The fighting has claimed more than 2,600 civilian lives and left thousands more homeless, according to the United Nations.

But less than a day into the ceasefire, each side has already claimed that the other has violated its terms — although reporters on the ground and local officials say they have not heard any shooting or shelling. The tenuous nature of the ceasefire left Western leaders doubting whether Russia will truly retract its assistance to the militants in Ukraine.

"It has to be tested," President Barack Obama said on Friday at the closing of a two-day NATO summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed, noting the additional sanctions on Russia that were preliminarily approved by the European Union on Friday, and could go into effect as early as Tuesday.

"We have to see whether this ceasefire is being applied," Merkel said. "Do Russian troops withdraw, so far as they're there? … If certain processes get underway, we are prepared to suspend sanctions."

If applied, the new round would restrict Russia's access to defense and arms trade, along with other technologies. More Russians would also be banned from entry into the trade bloc, and their assets would be frozen.