Russia’s president has said he is hoping for a peace deal between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels by tomorrow.
Vladimir Putin urged both sides to stop military action in eastern Ukraine, saying that his views and those of his Ukrainian counterpart were very close.
Meanwhile, Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko said they had agreed a “ceasefire process” but prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said no plan from Mr Putin should be trusted.
Mr Putin issued his own peace plan for eastern Ukraine yesterday, calling on Russian-backed insurgents to “stop advancing” and urging Ukraine to withdraw its troops from the region.
Hours earlier, Ukraine issued a statement about agreeing with Mr Putin on ceasefire steps. The separatists rejected the move, saying no ceasefire was possible without a retreat by Ukraine, while Mr Putin’s spokesman claimed Moscow could not agree to a ceasefire because it was not a party to the conflict.
The dialogue came as US 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 tomorrow with plans to approve a rapid-response team to counter the Russian threat.
Mr Putin is eager to avoid further international sanctions that could hurt his resource-based economy.
Amid the diplomatic chess match, a Ukrainian official said the bodies of 87 soldiers had been retrieved from south-eastern Ukraine.
He was quoted as saying the soldiers were killed near the eastern city of Ilovaysk, the scene of a government defeat over the weekend.
He added that the remains were being identified by forensic experts.
Mr Putin, speaking in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, said he came up with a seven-point peace plan on the plane trip there – one in which Kiev must withdraw its troops and stop its artillery strikes.
“The warring parties should immediately co-ordinate and do the following things together,” Mr Putin said. “The first thing is for the armed forces and insurgents of the south-east of Ukraine to stop active advancing in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
“Second is for the Ukrainian military to withdraw their troops at a safe distance that will make artillery and other strikes on populated areas impossible.”
Mr Putin also urged an unconditional exchange of prisoners and said he expected a final agreement between Kiev and the rebels to be reached by tomorrow at peace talks in Minsk, Belarus.
The Interfax news agency later carried positive remarks from rebel commander Miroslav Rudenko, who said “there’ll be no sense in a military solution to the conflict” if Kiev was to withdraw its troops.
Meanwhile, last night it emerged France has said conditions are “not right” for delivery of the first of two Mistral navy assault ships to Russia.
President François Hollande’s office blamed Moscow’s recent actions in Ukraine.
France had until now resisted pressure to halt the delivery, saying it had to respect an existing contract.
Russia’s deputy defence minister Yury Borisov said the French decision would not hold back Moscow’s plans to reform its armed forces.
He was quoted as saying: “Although of course it is unpleasant and adds to certain tensions in relations with our French partners, the cancelling of this contract will not be a tragedy for our modernisation.”.
Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin tweeted his thanks to the French leadership for its “responsible decision”, which he said was “important for restoring peace in Europe”.