Obama skeptical about Russia, Ukraine ceasefire agreement
Talinn, Estonia (CNN) — Ukraine’s President announced a ceasefire agreement Wednesday with Russia, but U.S. President Barack Obama greeted it with skepticism and Moscow downplayed it.
Obama, speaking on a visit to Estonia, said he was aware of the reported deal. But he said it was too early to see if all sides would follow through.
Any ceasefire effort has not worked up to now, he said, “either because Russia has not supported it or pretended it is not controlling the separatists” in eastern Ukraine.
“Having said that, if in fact Russia is prepared to stop financing, arming, training and in many cases joining with Russian troops activities in Ukraine, and is serious about a political settlement, that is something that we all hope for,” Obama added.
Since mid-April, Ukrainian forces have been battling pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine. Kiev and the West say the rebels are supported by Moscow — a claim Moscow denies.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s office said he and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had agreed to the ceasefire following a phone call.
“The conversation resulted in an agreement on ceasefire regime in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine region). The parties reached mutual understanding on the steps that will facilitate the establishment of peace,” a statement from the presidential press office said.
An earlier statement from Poroshenko’s office said “an agreement on a full ceasefire in Donbas” had been reached.
However, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin cast doubt on Ukraine’s reading of the call, saying that Russia could not agree to a ceasefire as it is not party to the conflict.
“There is no confirmation of a ceasefire because Putin cannot agree a ceasefire because he is not party to the conflict,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN.
“What was agreed were steps that would lead to a ceasefire. The important thing is to bring an end to the bloodshed and to stop the firing. Everyone is trying to deescalate the conflict.”
Peskov also said the longer term issue of constitutional reform in Ukraine was not discussed. The focus of the conversation was on bringing an end to bloodshed and implementing a ceasefire, he said.
No more details or time frame of the apparent deal were made available.
Rebels question ceasefire
A rebel spokesman in eastern Ukraine expressed doubt a ceasefire could hold and demand federal troops depart the region, according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
The head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic Defense Ministry’s press service, Vladislav Brig, told the news agency the rebels had not heard Poroshenko’s proposal for a ceasefire, and that the separatists doubted Kiev had control over all their forces in the east.
Putin has consistently argued that Russia has no say over ending the conflict because it is not involved in the conflict on the ground.
Russian state news agency Itar-Tass quoted Peskov as saying after the conversation that the two leaders’ views on ending the crisis “largely coincide.”
“The heads of state exchanged their views on top priority measures for stopping the bloodshed in that country’s south-east, and [Putin’s] view on possible ways out of this crisis situation largely coincides with that of the Ukrainian president,” Peskov is quoted as saying.
But U.S. and NATO officials say that in recent days Russia has sent troops and heavy weaponry into Ukraine, as well as training and arming the rebels over the course of weeks.
Obama vows support
Obama, speaking Wednesday alongside the Estonian President in Talinn, said Russia is “paying a heavy price” for its actions in Ukraine and that NATO is poised to do more to support Kiev.
Obama pledged that the United States would stand by Estonia and other former Soviet states. Additional U.S. personnel and aircraft are being rotated through the Baltics as part of NATO operations, he said.
“I just hope it works,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said of the reported ceasefire agreement.
Obama’s trip, ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Wales. is meant to reassure nervous Eastern Europe that Putin’s support for separatists in Ukraine doesn’t mean he has a free pass for territorial gains elsewhere.
The United States and European Union have agreed that additional economic sanctions are needed to curb Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Consideration of the new sanctions is a priority for member states, and the new package will be ready by the end of the week, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told CNN.
The proposals will include “sanctions on additional individuals and entities linked to Ukrainian separatists,” said Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
It will also include a “deepening of the economic measures against Russia, including its access to the financial markets,” she said.