West is doubtful over 'permanent ceasefire' in Ukraine
President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine yesterday claimed to have agreed a "permanent ceasefire" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but his announcement seemed premature as fighting continued in the east of the country.
Mr Putin also struck an emollient tone as he claimed the two leaders' views were "very close", although the Kremlin stressed that an agreement had not been reached. Meanwhile, artillery explosions rocked the outskirts of Donetsk, shortly after Kiev and Moscow signalled progress in the ceasefire talks.
The talks between the two presidents came after a series of reverses for Ukrainian forces, which the government blamed on Russia sending troops across the border to bolster pro-Kremlin separatists.
Tensions had risen earlier in the week, when Mr Putin was reported to have boasted that his forces could sweep into Kiev within two weeks if he wanted.
US President Barack Obama expressed his scepticism about a potential ceasefire, warning it could be effective only if Moscow stopped sending troops into Ukraine and admitted it was covertly backing separatist fighters.
"We have consistently supported the effort of President Poroshenko of achieving a meaningful ceasefire that could lead to a political settlement," Mr Obama told reporters.
British sources also expressed caution over reports of a ceasefire, insisting it would only be meaningful if it was observed by pro-Russian militias. And yesterday, the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, claimed any talk of a ceasefire could be a Russian effort to avoid further sanctions from the West. "All previous agreements made with Russia - in Geneva, in Normandy, in Berlin and in Minsk - were ignored or brazenly violated by the Russian regime," he said.
In France last night, the Elysee Palace announced that it was suspending the controversial delivery of a €600m state-of-the-art warship to the Russian navy. After an emergency meeting of the National Defence Council, President Francois Hollande said that "conditions do not today exist" for the delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers this autumn.
NATO's leaders will stage a show of solidarity this afternoon, as Mr Poroshenko joins them for talks. The turmoil in Ukraine has transformed the original agenda of the conference, which was intended to mark the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan.
Confusion over a potential agreement began after Mr Poroshenko tweeted: "As a result of my telephone conversation with the Russian President, we reached an agreement on a permanent ceasefire on Donbas [an eastern area of Ukraine]."
Speaking during a visit to Mongolia, Mr Putin said: Our views on the way to resolve the conflict, as it seemed to me, are very close."
He also predicted that a final deal could be struck in talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. (© Daily Telegraph, London)