Ukraine's president said Wednesday that he has a peace plan that would provide for a unilateral cease-fire on the part of government forces, giving pro-Russia separatists a chance to lay down their arms and end a weeks-long confrontation that has left scores of people dead.
But his proposal was immediately rejected by one of the top separatist leaders.
“The plan begins with my order for a unilateral cease-fire, after which we must immediately get support for the peace plan from all the participants" in the conflict in the country's east and south, President Petro Poroshenko said during a visit to the Ivan Chernyakhovsky National Defense University in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
"I can say that the cease-fire time will be pretty short," he added. "We expect that disarmament of militant groups and restoration of order will take place right after it."
Poroshenko said his plan consists of 14 key provisions but he didn't elaborate on them.
“The main goal is peace, but not at any price,” he said. “The entire world is looking at us, and our task is to demonstrate that even in this war we can beat the enemy and we can bring peace to Ukrainian soil.”
Poroshenko gave no indication of when the proposed cease-fire would go into effect.
Pro-Russia militants in the Donetsk region -- who reportedly had recently received reinforcements from across the border with Russia, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, arms and ammunition -- apparently were not impressed with the proposal. One of their leaders rejected the plan as “a meaningless PR stunt on the part of Poroshenko.”
“He offers to cease-fire so that we would lay down arms and his troops could get at us without a shot fired,” Denis Pushilin, leader of self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said in a phone interview. “We could talk peace with the Kiev junta only on conditions that their troops and hardware leave the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”
That was the first step of his own peace plan, Pushilin said.
“Then we can exchange all POWs on both sides and start talks about the recognition of our republics in the presence of international mediators,” he said. “Our regions will never again be part of Ukraine.”
Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman for government operations against the separatists, said those forces so far had received no cease-fire order.
Separatists in the east and south, areas with large Russian-speaking populations, rose up against the central government after protests drove pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich from power in February and Moscow's forces subsequently seized control of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
The proposal from Poroshenko, who is in his second week in office, sounds like a positive practical step aimed at ending the violence, said Olexiy Haran, a political expert and professor at Kiev Mohyla University.
“The plan will also provide an opportunity for Russian mercenaries to retreat to Russia through special controlled corridors earlier proposed by the president,” Haran said in a phone interview. “But all this is only possible if Russia really stops inciting and supplying the revolt with arms and mercenaries.”
Poroshenko discussed the details of his peace plan with Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone, the UNIAN news agency reported. During the conversation, Poroshenko also expressed condolences over the deaths of two Russian TV journalists Tuesday during a mortar attack near Luhansk and he promised an investigation of the incident, the news agency said.
Ten Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 15 injured overnight in the Luhansk region in the heavy fighting near the town of Schastye, which reportedly was liberated from pro-Russia militants the day before, UNIAN news agency reported.
Also Wednesday, Poroshenko fired acting Foreign Minister Ondriy Deshchitsa and asked the parliament to approve Pavel Klimkin, a career diplomat and Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, as the new minister, the TSN television network reported.
The reason for Deshchitsa's dismissal was not given, but he created a diplomatic scandal last week when he called Putin a profane name in public while trying to calm a protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Kiev.
Special correspondent Butenko reported from Kiev and Times staff writer Loiko from Moscow.