Putin proposes a truce

By Neil MacFarquhar / New York Times News Service

KIEV, Ukraine — On the eve of a NATO summit meeting focused on Russian aggression, President Vladimir Putin of Russia unveiled on Wednesday a seven-point peace plan for Ukraine while President Barack Obama and other Western leaders tried to keep the spotlight on the Kremlin’s role in stoking the conflict there and the penalties it should suffer for doing so.

Never at a loss for theatrical flair, Putin announced the plan soon after arriving on a state visit to Mongolia, brandishing a notebook page on which the first point was that both sides “end active offensive operations.”

Putin’s peace plan, jotted out during a plane ride over Siberia, muddied the diplomatic waters, leaving the West an excuse for delaying punitive sanctions that would also hurt European economies on the verge of a new recession. And it was expected to have some appeal to war-weary Ukrainians.

The timing of Putin’s announcement was lost on no one, however, as he and Western leaders engaged in a global chess game over the fate of Ukraine.

In Tallinn, Estonia, Obama made some of his harshest comments to date about the Kremlin’s armed intervention in Ukraine and hinted that NATO might now be willing to provide military assistance to Kiev. France postponed delivery of one of two warships it is building for Russia.

The details of the peace deal were sketchy at best, entangled in complicated diplomacy and domestic politics. But it was clear from various, somewhat confused and contradictory statements that Putin and the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, held an extensive discussion on the issue by telephone early Wednesday.

At first, Poroshenko’s office issued a vague announcement that the two leaders had agreed to a “lasting cease-fire.” The statement was diluted later to say only that both leaders had endorsed the need for a cease-fire and that Poroshenko hoped negotiations would begin in earnest on Friday. Putin said his notes emerged from the telephone conversation.

In announcing the plan, Putin said he expected Ukraine and the separatists to wrap up an agreement after a new round of negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, on Friday. Ukraine, Russia and Europe are all party to the talks there, and they include representatives of the separatists. The two-day NATO summit meeting is also scheduled to end Friday.