LIVE Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian rebels reject ceasefire announcement [archived v2]

LIVE Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian rebels reject ceasefire announcement [archived v2] Ukraine's vague statement agreeing with Russian President Putin on ceasefire steps sowing confusion The Associated Press Posted: Sep 03, 2014 2:39 AM ET Last Updated: Sep 03, 2014 9:22 AM ET

LIVE Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian rebels reject ceasefire announcement [archived v2]
Ukraine’s vague statement agreeing with Russian President Putin on ceasefire steps sowing confusion
The Associated Press Posted: Sep 03, 2014 2:39 AM ET Last Updated: Sep 03, 2014 9:22 AM ET

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LIVE Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian rebels reject ceasefire announcement [archived v2]
Ukraine’s vague statement agreeing with Russian President Putin on ceasefire steps sowing confusion
The Associated Press Posted: Sep 03, 2014 2:39 AM ET Last Updated: Sep 03, 2014 9:22 AM ET

Barack Obama in Estonia LIVE

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Ceasefire confusion in Eastern Ukraine
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Ceasefire confusion in Eastern Ukraine 2:33

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A day ahead of a NATO summit, Ukraine issued a vague statement Wednesday about agreeing with Russian President Vladimir Putin on ceasefire steps for eastern Ukraine. The Russian-backed rebels rejected the move, saying no ceasefire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces.

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The back-and-forth came as President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia in a show of solidarity with NATO allies who fear they could be the next target of Russia’s aggression. NATO is holding a summit in Wales on Thursday, with plans to approve a rapid-response team to counter the Russian threat.

UKRAINE-CRISIS/

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands next to an APC in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Rebel officials said there can be no ceasefire as long as Ukrainian forces are in Donetsk. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

The rebels ignored a 10-day unilateral ceasefire that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had called in June. There have also been previous statements of agreements on steps for peace, but the conflict between separatists and the government in Kyiv has only intensified since it began in mid-April.

In a brief statement, Poroshenko’s office said Wednesday that he and Putin were in agreement on a ceasefire: a “mutual understanding was reached regarding the steps that will contribute to the establishment of peace.”

Poroshenko’s office first said there was an “agreement on a permanent ceasefire,” but later revised its statement to say an “agreement on a ceasefire regime.” The changes — which appeared in Ukrainian, Russian and English versions — seemed to indicate the two leaders agreed on the conditions necessary for a ceasefire, not that one would imminently be implemented.

Then the rebels weighed in.

“As long as Ukrainian forces are on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, there can be no ceasefire,” rebel official Vladislav Brig told The Associated Press.

Putin has called on the pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine to “stop advancing” and for the Ukrainian army to withdraw their troops from the region.

He was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he expected the final agreements between Kyiv and the rebels to be reached in Minsk, Belarus, on Friday.

Germany said it does not have confirmation of a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine so a timeline on further sanctions against Russia agreed by European leaders last weekend is still valid, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.

“We have no real confirmation of what was really or possibly agreed there and what that would affect and how that would actually be implemented. So we’re sticking to the timeframe the European Council agreed on Saturday,” said Steffen Seibert.

Obama reassures Baltics

Obama said it was too early to tell what the announcement meant. He noted previous unsuccessful attempts and questioned whether pro-Russian separatists would abide by any ceasefire.

Obama-Urmas Paet

U.S. President Barack Obama greeted by Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet after arriving in Tallinn on Wednesday. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

“We haven’t seen a lot of follow-up on so-called announced ceasefires,” Obama said. “Having said that, if in fact Russia is prepared to stop financing, arming, training, in many cases joining with Russian troops, activities in Ukraine and is serious about a political settlement, that is something we all hope for.”

In Tallin, Estonia’s port capital, Obama proclaimed an unwavering and permanent U.S. commitment to the security of its NATO allies.

He said the U.S. would send more Air Force units and aircraft to the Baltics. Under the NATO charter, an attack on one member is considered an attack on the entire alliance.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Obama called Estonia’s Amari Air Base an ideal location to base those additional forces. He ticked through a list of U.S. military resources already at work in the region, and said the U.S. has a duty under the NATO charter to the alliance’s collective defence.

“It is unbreakable, it is unwavering, it is eternal. And Estonia will never stand alone,” Obama said.

Russia denies involvement

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to support pro-Russian insurgents who have been fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine since mid-April. Moscow has vehemently denied this charge.

That denial leaves unclear how effective the truce announced Wednesday would prove to be. After a meeting with Poroshenko last week, Putin had said a ceasefire was not discussed because Russia was not a party to the conflict.

Ukraine crisis

Ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed about 2,600 people and displaced more than 340,000 since fighting began in mid-April. (Reuters/Maks Levin)

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by Russian news agencies on Wednesday as saying the leaders had “largely agreed on steps that would be conducive to a ceasefire,” but repeated that Russia is not involved in the fighting.

Rebel leaders said earlier this week that they would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for autonomy. The rebels previously have called for full independence for their regions or possible absorption into Russia. Poroshenko has spoken in favour of devolving some of the central government’s power to regions, but that is far short of autonomy for the rebel regions.

Over the weekend, the European Union leaders agreed to prepare a new round of sanctions that could be enacted in a week, after NATO accused Russia of sending tanks and troops into southeastern Ukraine. A NATO summit in Wales on Thursday is also expected to approve measures designed to counter Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, loud artillery explosions rocked the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

A Reuters correspondent in Donetsk said the blasts could be heard in the northwest of the city, home to about 1 million people before the conflict began, and dark grey smoke was billowing from an area near the city airport.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 2,600 people and forced over 340,000 to flee their homes, according to the UN.

With files from Reuters
© The Associated Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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