KIEV: Ukraine’s new Western-backed president on Friday released a sweeping peace plan for curbing a pro-Russian uprising in the separatist east that is threatening the ex-Soviet country’s survival.
The publication of the 14-point initiative followed two phone conversations in 72 hours between President Petro Poroshenko and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which highlighted the Kremlin’s lingering influence over its smaller western neighbor.
Poroshenko on Thursday also hosted in Kiev local leaders and tycoons from the eastern rustbelt to help win their agreement for his ideas of how to end the fighting that has killed at least 365 civilians and fighters on both sides.
A Ukranian military spokesman said on Friday the latest eastern clashes claimed the lives of seven soldiers and left 30 wounded.
Kiev media published copies of the document Poroshenko was due to formally unveil later in the day that demands the rebels’ immediate disarmament and promises to decentralize power through constitutional reform.
The plan also drops criminal charges against separatist fighters who committed no “serious crimes” and provides “a guaranteed corridor for Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries to leave” the conflict zone.
But it also calls on “local government bodies to resume their operations”—a demand rejected by separatist leaders who have proclaimed their independence from Kiev and occupied administration buildings in about a dozen eastern cities and towns.
One rebel commander this week dismissed news that Poroshenko was about to propose a strategy for ending the country’s worst crisis in its post-Soviet history as “meaningless.”
The plan is officially called “Steps toward a peaceful settlement of the situation in eastern Ukrainian regions” and is intended to stay in force for 10 days after its publication.
But it makes no mention of an immediate but temporary unilateral ceasefire that Poroshenko promised on Wednesday to declare within a matter of days.
Poroshenko has previously suggested that his call for Ukranian forces to halt their offensive would go into effect with the plans’ publication.
Putin had earlier bowed to Western pressure and refused to recognize the independence proclaimed by the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the wake of disputed May 11 sovereignty referendums.
But he has lobbied heavily for Kiev to turn Ukraine into a federation that provides regional leaders with the right to draft their own laws, and establish independent trade relations with nations such as Russia.
The new pro-European Union (EU) leaders that rose to power after months of deadly protests toppled Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February have faced similar pressure from Western leaders.
But Washington and the EU have stopped short of supporting the “federalization” idea promoted by Putin and the regional rights outlined in Poroshenko’s proposal were limited.
It guarantees the “protection of the Russian language” in eastern regions, and obliges the president to consult local leaders about whom he should appoint as governor.
But it does not give regions the right to elect their own heads of administration—another key Russian demand.
Putin’s official reaction to details of the plan Poroshenko outlined by telephone late on Thursday has been muted.
“Poroshenko informed the Russian head of state regarding the main points of his plan to regulate the situation in southeast Ukraine,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
It added that Putin gave “a series of comments” and stressed the need for the “immediate end to the military operation.”
Poroshenko’s office said the Ukrainian leader—elected in snap May 25 polls that gave him a convincing first-round victory against several pro-Russian rivals—told Putin that he “counts on [his]support of the peace plan.”