The Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Wednesday that a “ceasefire regime” had been agreed with Russia over the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
The President revised his previous comments that Ukraine had reached a "permanent ceasefire" with Russia with a brief statement from his office that a "mutual understanding was reached regarding the steps that will contribute to the establishment of peace," but gave no further details.
But fighting in the region does not appear to have ceased. Serhiy Melnuchuk, a commander of the Aidar volunteer militia battalion in Donbass, told Ukraine’s 112 TV channel that “at the moment journalists told me of a ceasefire, we came under fire twice”, while Vladislav Brrig, a rebel official, told the Associated Press that "as long as Ukrainian forces are on the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic there can be no ceasefire".
President Putin has since called on both sides to observe a ceasefire, and said he has a seven-step plan to "end the bloodshed". His proposals include calls for both the pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine to halt military operations. He called on Ukraine to move its forces back from the frontlines and to refrain from shelling civilian areas.
He said his and President Poroshenko's views on resolving the conflict are "very close", confirming he had spoken to the Ukrainian president on Wednesday.
At the time of the original ceasefire announcemenet, President Poroshenko tweeted: "As a result of a telephone conversation with the president of Russia, we have reached agreement on a permanent ceasefire in the Donbass. Glory to Ukraine!"
Donbass incorporates the regions of Donestsk and Luhansk, where fighting has been ongoing since April. The death toll has reached more than 2,600 since the fighting began, according to the UN.
The original announcement was denied by the Kremlin, which claimed that "Russia cannot physically agree to a ceasefire as it is not party to the conflict".
President Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that "Putin and Poroshenko really discussed the steps that would contribute to a ceasefire between the militia and the Ukrainian forces”.
President Barack Obama called the reports of a ceasefire in the region “too early to tell” in a press conference in Estonia on Wednesday. He said the United States has “consistently” supported efforts to reach a “meaningful” ceasefire.
Confusion around the agreement comes on the day that Russia announced it will conduct major exercises in September of the strategic missile forces responsible for its long-range nuclear arsenal.
The exercises will involve more than 4,000 servicemen and will practice countering irregular units and high-precision weapons, the RIA news agency reported Russia’s Defence ministry as saying, with the tests making extensive use of air power.
Russia’s defence ministry announced the plans amid rising tensions between the country and Nato over the crisis in Ukraine, just days after Vladimir Putin boasted to European leaders that he could “take Kiev in two weeks”, after telling a youth summer camp that “Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers” and that “Russia’s partners should understand it’s best not to mess with us”.
But despite the Russian leader’s aggressive comments, a spokesperson for President Putin said he had had discussions with President Poroshenko regarding a peace settlement in eastern Ukraine, finding that they “largely share views” on a way out of the crisis. The spokesperson did not give an indication of when this conversation took place.
On Saturday David Cameron warned European leaders that the West is at risk of appeasing President Putin in the same way that Britain and France appeased Adolf Hitler before the start of the Second World War.
In a debate about the crisis in Ukraine that took place behind closed doors, the Prime Minister told leaders that President Putin had to be stopped from seizing all of Ukriane, the Guardian reported, according to details of the conversation obtained by La Repubblica.
He likened the dealings of European leaders with Putin to the failed methods of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the lead up to the war, when he continued to negotiate with Hitler.
“We run the risk of repeating the mistakes made in Munich in ’38. We cannot know what will happen next,” Mr Cameron is understood to have said. “This time we cannot meet Putin’s demands. He has already taken Crimea and we cannot allow him to take the whole country,” La Repubblica reported.
President Barack Obama has since arrived in Estonia, making a show of solidarity in Eastern Europe ahead of a Nato summit in Wales on Thursday. He is due to hold a news conference with Eastonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and is expected to reassure the Baltics that the US would come to their defence if tensions escalated that far.
Under the Nato charter, an attack on one member is considered an attack on the entire alliance.
Additional reporting by agencies
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