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Ukraine crisis: Putin hopes for peace deal by Friday

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is hoping for a peace agreement to be reached between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels by Friday.

Mr Putin urged both sides to stop military action in eastern Ukraine, adding that his views and those of his Ukrainian counterpart were very close.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said earlier they had agreed by phone on a “ceasefire process”.

Meanwhile the US president offered solidarity with Baltic Nato members.

Barack Obama is in the Estonian capital Tallinn with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia and the leaders of Latvia and Lithuania, all former Soviet states which joined Nato a decade ago.

A Nato summit opening in Wales on Thursday is expected to back plans for a rapid response force.

In other developments

  • Russia confirmed the death of photojournalist Andrei Stenin in Ukraine on 6 August, saying he had been killed in a Ukrainian government ambush on a convoy of rebels and refugees near Donetsk
  • Russia is to hold military exercises in the south Siberian region of Altai this month involving more than 4,000 soldiers and air power, a defence ministry official told a Russian news agency

‘Mutual understanding’

Mr Poroshenko’s office initially reported that a “permanent ceasefire” had been agreed but later revised its statement.

The earlier version of the statement on the Ukrainian presidential website read: “Their conversation resulted in agreement on a permanent ceasefire in the Donbass region [the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk].”

This has now been changed to: “Their conversation resulted in agreement on a process for ceasing fire in the Donbass region.”

A Ukrainian policeman removes a weapon found in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, 2 SeptemberA Ukrainian policeman removes a weapon found in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, on Tuesday
USA President Barack Obama (left) with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in Tallinn, 3 SeptemberUS President Barack Obama (left) reassured Estonian President Toomas Hendrik in Tallinn that his country had Nato’s support
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia in Ulan Bator, 3 SeptemberRussian President Vladimir Putin (right) was visiting Mongolia on Wednesday

The statement adds that the two presidents “reached a mutual understanding on steps leading to peace”.

In its statement (in Russian), the Kremlin said a phone conversation had taken place on Wednesday between the two presidents in which their points of view had “coincided significantly” on possible ways to end the crisis.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, clarified for Russian news agency Ria-Novosti: “Putin and Poroshenko did not agree a ceasefire in Ukraine because Russia is not party to the conflict, they only discussed how to settle the conflict.”

Chris Morris reports from the Estonia-Russia border, where people are watching Obama’s visit closely

An aide to the deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrei Purgin, told the same agency that President Poroshenko had not consulted the rebels about any ceasefire and its announcement had come as a “complete surprise”.

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.”

A spokeswoman for EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton said that work on new sanctions against Russia was continuing because the ceasefire had not been confirmed.

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War in eastern Ukraine: The human cost

  • At least 2,593 people killed since mid-April (not including 298 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines MH17, shot down in the area) – UN report on 29 August
  • 951 civilians killed in Donetsk region alone, official regional authorities said on 20 August
  • In some particularly dangerous places, such as Luhansk region, victims are said to have been buried informally, making accurate counts difficult
  • Rebels (and some military sources) accuse the government of concealing true numbers
  • 260,000 people have fled elsewhere in Ukraine while at least 814,000 have gone to Russia.
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More than 2,600 civilians and combatants have been killed and more than a million people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine in April, when pro-Russian separatists there declared independence.

Russia has denied accusations by the West and the Ukrainian government that it is sending troops and military equipment over the border to support the separatists, who recently gained the upper hand against government forces.

Russian photographer Andrei Stenin in Damascus in 2013Russian photographer Andrei Stenin is seen here in Damascus in 2013

Nato reassurance

At a news conference in Tallinn, Mr Obama said it was “too early to tell” how serious reports were of the ceasefire and he questioned Russia’s actions again.

“No realistic political settlement can be achieved if effectively Russia says we are going to continue to send tanks and troops and arms and advisers under the guise of separatists, who are not home grown, and the only possible settlement is if Ukraine cedes its territory or its sovereignty,” he said.

Mr Obama also told Estonia, where about 25% of the population are ethnic Russians, that it would “never stand alone”.

The BBC’s Europe editor Gavin Hewitt says the three former Soviet states have been unsettled by President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that Russia has a right to intervene to defend the interests of Russian speakers.


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