as Ukraine and Russia announce progress towards peace
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[September 03, 2014]
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine said on
Wednesday its president had agreed with Russia's Vladimir Putin on steps
towards a "ceasefire regime" in Kiev's conflict with pro-Russian rebels,
but the Kremlin denied any actual truce deal, sowing confusion on the
eve of a NATO summit.
"The parties reached mutual understanding on the steps that will
facilitate the establishment of peace," said a statement by
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office, replacing an earlier
statement that had spoken of a "permanent ceasefire".
Putin's spokesman said the leaders agreed on steps towards peace but
not a ceasefire in the conflict, which has killed more than 2,600
people since April and provoked the worst crisis in relations
between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
"Putin and Poroshenko really discussed the steps that would
contribute to a ceasefire between the militia and the Ukrainian
forces. Russia cannot physically agree to a ceasefire because it is
not a party to the conflict," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
That position is disputed by Kiev and Western governments, which say
Russian troops are fighting alongside the pro-Moscow separatists.
Despite the confusion, the statements appeared to indicate a degree
of progress that could influence European Union leaders as they
consider introducing new sanctions against Russia as early as
In a contradictory signal, Moscow simultaneously announced plans for
huge military exercises this month by the strategic rocket forces
responsible for its long-range nuclear weapons. It said the
maneuvers in south-central Russia would involve 4,000 troops and
extensive use of air power.
The timing was clearly calculated to throw down a challenge to NATO
and the United States, hours before President Barack Obama was due
to deliver a speech on the crisis in Russia's neighbor Estonia.
Obama was expected to affirm the commitment of the United States and
NATO to defend its members in Eastern Europe in the face of what
they see as Cold War-style Russian aggression.
Russia denies any military presence in Ukraine, despite what Western
governments have called overwhelming evidence that it has sent in
troops and tanks to rescue the separatists from defeat and enable
them to turn the tide of the conflict.
[to top of second column]
“You want to talk provocative? Let's talk about a few thousand
Russian troops inside eastern Ukraine, continuing to support
separatists, with heavy weapon systems, and more than 10,000 troops
arrayed along the southeast border with Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesman
Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Tuesday.
When he met Poroshenko in Belarus eight days ago, Putin had said
Russia would help to facilitate peace moves, but the actual
agreement of a ceasefire would be an internal matter for the
Ukrainian government and the rebels.
Initial reaction from the rebel side appeared skeptical towards the
possibility of any breakthrough.
A senior rebel leader said the separatists were sticking to their
demand for Ukrainian troops to withdraw from "our territory" as the
main condition for peace.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Donetsk and Lidia
Kelly and Jason Bush in Moscow; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing
by Will Waterman)
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