Ukraine, Russia peace deal grows closer

Kiev - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine could be reached this week, a clear attempt to show the West he was trying to de-escalate the conflict despite renewed shelling.

After speaking with Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko, Putin said their views on ending the violence were "very close" and Kiev and the rebels could reach an agreement by Friday, much-needed respite for the Ukrainian leader battling a crumbling economy.

But hopes of peace were clouded by Western concerns that the announcement was timed by the Kremlin to wrong-foot NATO on the eve of a summit that will discuss the crisis and to sow doubt in the EU over imposing new sanctions against Moscow.

US President Barack Obama said a ceasefire would succeed only if Moscow stopped sending troops to Ukraine.

Views 'are very close'

New shelling of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, sending plumes of grey smoke from near the city's airport, also undermined confidence in an end to hostilities.

"The parties reached mutual understanding on the steps that will facilitate the establishment of peace," Poroshenko's office said, amending an earlier statement that had spoken of agreement on a "permanent ceasefire".

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the leaders agreed on steps towards peace but not a ceasefire because Russia was not a party to the conflict, which has killed more than 2 600 people since April and caused the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Putin sounded upbeat in comments to reporters during a visit to Mongolia.

"Our views on the way to resolve the conflict, as it seemed to me, are very close," he said, outlining the seven steps he had put forward to secure a resolution to the crisis.

These steps, he suggested, should include a prisoner exchange and the creation of a humanitarian corridor for refugees and aid supplies. He called for Ukrainian troops to pull back and for rebels to cease offensive operations.

Russia 'not serious'

The West accuses Russia of arming the rebels and sending troops into Ukraine to turn the tide of fighting in the almost five month-old conflict. Moscow denies the charges.

"We have consistently supported the effort of president Poroshenko of achieving a meaningful ceasefire that could lead to a political settlement," Obama said in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, during a visit intended to underline US commitment to a frontline NATO state.

"So far it hasn't helped, either because Russia has not been serious about it or it's pretended that it's not controlling the separatists, and separatists, when they thought it was to their advantage, have not abided by the ceasefire."

Although there was confusion over what had been agreed by Kiev and Moscow, the sides' statements pointed to a degree of progress that might yet influence EU leaders as they consider introducing new sanctions against Russia as early as Friday.

Sanctions were first imposed on Russia in the crisis after it annexed the Crimean peninsula in March following the removal of a Ukrainian president sympathetic to Moscow.

Contradictory signals

But in a contradictory signal on Wednesday, Moscow announced plans for huge military exercises this month by the strategic rocket forces responsible for its long-range nuclear weapons. It said the manoeuvres in south-central Russia would involve 4 000 troops and extensive use of air power.

The timing appeared calculated to show NATO and the US Moscow's military strength.

"In terms of actions, we've seen aggression and appeals to national sentiments that have historically been very dangerous in Europe and are rightly a cause of concerns," Obama told a news conference in Tallinn.

"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."

Despite Russia's denials it has any military presence in Ukraine, Western governments say they have 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.

- Reuters
Francois Vorster 2014-09-03 06:28:30 PM
“US President Barack Obama said a ceasefire would succeed only if Moscow stopped sending troops to Ukraine.” What is this man smoking? If Russia wanted to take over the Ukraine they can do it in 1 day. The Ukraine is no match for Russia. All obama is trying to do is discredit Russia to try and get a foothold in the Ukraine. Remember the Russian submarine bases are in the Ukraine (Crimean) and it is the only ice free port in winter - it all about power. The usa want to dominate the world and Russian is a very powerful country that will not allow it.
Dave Orchard 2014-09-03 07:20:47 PM
USA are the cause of all this. They funded the overthrow of the Ukraine government. They are the ones that are causing all this. They should be charged with violations to human rights. All that so USA can supply oil to Europe???
Nhlanganiso Faku 2014-09-03 08:21:37 PM
smoking some green herbs.
dunkie56 2014-09-03 08:24:31 PM
Russia was forced to take Crimean due to western interfering in Ukrainian internal affairs.A coup was engineered and billions of Dollars spent on financing the opposition.So when all this interference angers and alarms Moscow they are chastised for securing the Crimean peninsula for security reasons.Any halfwit could have seen where this was all leading!If Russia wanted to invade Ukraine they would have done it some months back and if their intentions were as the West likes to insist ..then why would they have waited so long?No this is all slandered and engineered to evoke Russia to take action so the the US can say...see they were always the enemy so lets isolate them and destroy their economy force them back behind an iron curtain where they belong and get them of the world stage where they can expose us and undermine our attempts to subject the world to our will.Coming from the US one can understand their annoyance with Russia's never ending spanner in the spoke of US hegemony!My biggest amazement is how the EU and other Western so called nations...such as Australia...are led like sheep to do the US's's so disappointing it can make you cry!This continual harassing of Russia will lead this world to very dire consequences and ISIS is a picnic compared to what will come.Look carefully how Ukrainians are killing one another..see old women blown to bits children traumatized and damaged for life..!The total lack of concern for the well being of the innocents of
dunkie56 2014-09-03 08:30:55 PM
The total lack of concern for the well being of the innocents of this conflict must awaken all of us to the absolute evil that now strides the earth...ISIS is no worse then the "junta' in Kiev...if world war is the result then those who have brought this upon our heads must be brought to account and the world that will emerge from this dark time in our human history will be completely different..the only question that humanity will have to ask itself is..why did it have to come about this way..why did so many have to die and how do we go forward as a species forever having to carry the guilt of it in our hearts and for future generations they will spit on the remembrance of those who lived in these times..they will hate us without limit for what we allowed to happen..we will be the despised generations..history will judge us very very harshly..and we will deserve everything!
Bongani Hlongwa 2014-09-03 08:33:41 PM
This Ukrainian conflict has shown us all that Putin is a stateman who love peace and hate bloodshed; as against Nato leaders, who were seemingly happy when the regime in Kiev was murdering East Ukrainians and destroying their cities. The fuming of Nato leaders at Putin's peace process, is proof enough.
Siya 2014-09-03 08:42:38 PM
The major concern that Obama is facing is the beginning of a dialogue, because if that starts it might see all the effort that he has put going down the drain. He definitely wanted the rebels defeated at all odds from there he would archive a smooth transition to NATO and EU.
Deon Pretorius 2014-09-04 11:58:26 AM
The thing that gets me is that America goes on about the patriotic rhetoric that they hear from Putin, but how is that different from what we hear every day from America. Everyone screams America before every game.