Ukraine crisis: Government ‘to offer ceasefire and amnesty’ for separatists if they agree to lay down arms

Peace plan to be put in place after talks with Vladimir Putin

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The Independent Online

The Ukrainian President has said his government’s forces will call a unilateral ceasefire “in the next few days”, laying down their weapons in the hope that separatist fighters will do the same.

Petro Poroshenko outlined a 14-point peace plan that includes the offer of an amnesty to rebels who comply and tighter controls over the Ukraine-Russia border.

The announcement came after a telephone call late last night with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the heads of state “touched on the topic of a possible ceasefire”, the Kremlin confirmed.

Speaking to students at a military institute in Kiev, the newly-elected leader Poroshenko said: “The plan will start with my order for a unilateral ceasefire. Immediately after this, we need very quickly to get support for the peace plan ... from all participants.”

Russia is key to any ceasefire because of fears that it will move in to reinforce the rebels if Ukraine’s army stands down.

Poroshenko had said on Monday that a peace plan could start only if the border was secure, and that he had ordered troops to regain control of it to pave the way for a truce and any subsequent talks.

Acting Defence Minister Mykhailo Koval told journalists in Kiev the ceasefire “will happen in the next few days”, in a rare sign of progress in the ongoing crisis.

Moscow has urged a swift end to what it calls a “punitive operation” by Ukrainian forces against pro-Russian separatists in the east.

Relations between the two neighbours are in tatters, three months after Russia labelled the uprising against the former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych a Western-backed coup, then annexed the Black Sea peninsular of Crimea from Ukraine.

Moscow has grudgingly acknowledged Poroshenko as Ukraine's new elected leader, but tensions are still high, exacerbated by Russia's decision to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine after the two sides failed to agree a regime for pricing and the settlement of Ukraine's debts.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, said that any cease-fire should be “comprehensive,” not temporary. However, he said that if it was followed by negotiations “then it could be the step President Poroshenko has promised and which in general we were all waiting for.”

Separatists have seized government buildings, held disputed referendums and declared independence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia. Ukrainian troops have struggled to suppress the insurgents, who on Saturday shot down a military transport plane, killing all 49 on board. Authorities say more than 300 people have died in fighting.

On Tuesday a bomb was set off at a gas pipeline in Ukraine’s Poltava region, though the flow was not interrupted, and two Russian journalists were killed by mortar fire in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin had used last night’s phone call to express his concern to Poroshenko over the deaths of Russian state television correspondent Igor Kornelyuk, 37, and sound engineer Anton Voloshin.

Poroshenko offered his condolences and assured Putin there would be an investigation and measures taken to protect journalists, the Kremlin said.