President Vladimir Putin outlined plans for a ceasefire
in eastern Ukraine but Ukraine's prime minister dismissed the
proposal, while France expressed its disapproval of Moscow's
support for separatist forces by halting delivery of a warship.
After speaking to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko by
phone, Putin said he believed Kiev and pro-Russian
separatists could reach agreement at planned talks in Minsk
on Friday (local time).
"Our views on the way to resolve the conflict, as it seemed
to me, are very close," Putin told reporters during a visit
to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, describing the seven
steps he had put forward to secure a resolution to the
They included separatists halting offensive operations,
Ukrainian forces pulling back, an end to Ukrainian air
strikes, the creation of humanitarian aid corridors, the
rebuilding of damaged infrastructure and prisoner exchanges.
Poroshenko indicated the conversation with Putin had injected
some momentum into efforts to end a conflict that has killed
more than 2,600 people since April, saying he hoped the
"peace process will finally begin" at Friday's talks and that
he and Putin had a "mutual understanding" on steps towards
But Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk dismissed the plan as a
"deception" on the eve of a NATO summit that will discuss
Ukraine, adding in a harshly worded statement: "The real plan
of Putin is to destroy Ukraine and to restore the Soviet
U.S. President Barack Obama also voiced caution, saying the
conflict could end only if Russia stopped supplying the
rebels with weapons and soldiers, a charge Moscow has denied.
Visiting the former Soviet republic of Estonia, now in NATO
and the European Union, Obama said previous ceasefires had
not worked "either because Russia has not been serious about
it or it's pretended that it's not controlling the
In a further sign of the West's growing mistrust and
disapproval of Moscow over its conduct in Ukraine, France
said it would not go ahead with the planned delivery of the
first of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia.
Moscow has said scrapping the €1.2 billion deal would harm
France more than Russia and the Defence Ministry described
the decision as "no tragedy", but the move is likely to anger
the Kremlin and underlines Russia's growing isolation over
events in Ukraine.
NEW SANCTIONS POSSIBLE
The EU, which has followed Washington in imposing limited
economic sanctions on Russia, could agree new moves against
Moscow on Friday, hitting the defence and finance sectors.
Indicating European leaders were not impressed by Putin's new
proposals, French President Francois Hollande's office said
he had reached his decision "despite the prospect of a
ceasefire, which has yet to be confirmed and put in place".
The ceasefire proposals had little immediate impact on the
ground. Shelling of the rebel-held city of Donetsk continued
and grey plumes of smoke poured up from the area that
includes the city's airport.
Rebel leaders said they had little faith that Ukrainian
forces would observe any truce in a conflict that has left
Russia's relations with the West at their worst level since
the end of the Cold War more than two decades ago.
"A ceasefire is always good but our main condition still
stands - to withdraw Ukrainian troops from our territory.
That's the only reasonable way," said Vladimir Antyufeyev,
deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's
A truce would provide Poroshenko with some respite to revive
a crumbling economy, battered by months of street protests
against a president sympathetic to Moscow and then the
violence that erupted after his ouster in February, followed
by Russia's annexation of Crimea and then prolonged fighting
in the east.
A ceasefire may also be more welcome to Poroshenko now
because his forces have suffered setbacks in the past week.
Putin is widely thought intent on ensuring Moscow at least
continues to have influence in largely Russian-speaking
eastern Ukraine after the conflict ends, though fears of a
full-scale invasion by Russia remain in Kiev.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, sought to address concerns
over the ceasefire proposals by saying they did not address
the status of the rebel-held areas. Some rebels want
unification with Russia, others want more independence inside
Peskov also denied a statement by Poroshenko's office
suggesting Putin had agreed a ceasefire. That would imply
Moscow was a party to the conflict, and Kiev later amended
Despite Putin's proposals, the Defence Ministry announced
plans for huge military exercises this month by the strategic
rocket forces responsible for its long-range nuclear weapons,
involving 4,000 troops in south-central Russia.
Obama made clear NATO, which holds a summit in Wales on
Thursday and Friday, would not be cowed.
"NATO must make concrete commitments to help Ukraine
modernize and strengthen its security forces. We must do more
to help other NATO partners, including Georgia and Moldova,
strengthen their defences as well," he said in a speech in
the Estonian capital, Tallinn.