A deal on a Ukraine ceasefire appeared close after the presidents of Ukraine and Russia spoke by phone today, and Russian President Vladimir Putin later issued steps both sides should take to bring an end to the fighting.
Putin said that pro-Russian rebels should halt their offensives and "stop advancing" and seizing territory and that the Ukraine government should withdraw its troops from the disputed region.
The Ukraine government did not immediately respond to Putin's seven-point ceasefire plan, but earlier Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko had announced that there was "agreement on a permanent cease-fire." He later revised his statement to say the two countries had an "agreement on a cease-fire regime."
The revised statement came after Putin's spokesman says the two men largely shared views on ways out of the crisis, but said Russia was not a party to the conflict between the Ukraine military and pro-Russian rebel forces.
Putin, who was visiting Ulan Bator released what he said was a seven-step outline for a ceasefire between Ukraine forces and pro-Russian separatists.
"The warring parties should immediately coordinate and do the following things together," Putin said in televised comments. "The first thing is for the armed forces and insurgents of the south-east of Ukraine to stop active advancing in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
"Second is for the Ukrainian military to withdraw their troops at a safe distance that will make artillery and other strikes on populated areas impossible," he added.
Putin also urged an unconditional exchange of prisoners and said he expected a final agreement between Kiev and the rebels to be reached Friday at peace talks in Minsk, Belarus.
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President Obama and an EU spokesman have also said that reports of a ceasefire are not confirmed. Obama is currently in Estonia participating in a NATO summit.
It's not clear whether Ukraine's pro-Russian rebels are willing to accept a ceasefire. Vladislav Brrig, a rebel official, told The Associated Press, "As long as Ukrainian forces are on the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic there can be no ceasefire."
Just a few weeks ago, Ukraine's military had the momentum, pushing back rebel forces and closing in on their strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk, but over the past week Ukraine and NATO officials claim that Russia has sent its forces across the border to prevent the pro-Russian forces from being defeated. The rebels also opened up a new front by grabbing the southern city of Novoazovsk and are now menacing a key seaport of Mariupol.
Russia denies that its troops are in Ukraine, but Putin has told Ukraine that it should negotiate with the rebels who are demanding autonomy from the Ukraine government in Kiev.
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