Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday that he has reached a permanent cease-fire agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the conflict in eastern Ukraine. But Moscow officials said no specific deal was in place. VPC

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After conflicting reports on a possible cease-fire deal for Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have agreed on a plan to settle the conflict and called on Kiev to pull out its troops from the disputed areas and for rebels to stop their military operations, particularly in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The Kremlin leader said he believes that the Contact Group on Ukraine — currently meeting in Minsk, the Belarus capital — would reach final agreements on the settlement plan at their next meeting on Friday, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

His remarks came shortly before President Obama, speaking in the former Soviet republic of Estonia, blasted what he called Russia’s “brazen assault on the sovereign territory of Ukraine.”

Obama said Russia’s action in Ukraine “challenges that most basic principle that border cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.”

As part of a seven-point plan, Putin said militants must end their military operations in the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and that Ukrainian armed forces should pull back far enough to rule out the shelling of cities and villages. He also said military aircraft should not be used against civilians and population areas in the conflict zone, Interfax Russia reports.

He said a final agreement should also include a full and impartial international monitoring of a cease-fire.

In addition, the Russian leader said a deal should set up humanitarian corridors to allow for the movement of refugees and the delivery of supplies to the cities and towns of Donbass.

Putin’s comments followed different accounts by Kiev and Moscow on a telephone call between the two heads of state, with Poroshenko saying a permanent cease-fire deal had been reached and Russia saying only the outlines of an agreement had been discussed.

The different response to the cease-fire talk reflected the smoke-and-mirrors nature of the conflict, with Russia maintaining it cannot agree to a cease-fire because it is not directly involved in the fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatist rebels.

Initially, Poroshenko said flatly on Twitter that , “As a result of my telephone conversation with Russian President we reached an agreement on a permanent cease-fire on Donbass.'”

Donbass refers to the industrialized region of eastern Ukraine that has been the main battlefield in the months-long fight between Ukrainian troops and the Pro-Russian rebels that has left more than 2,600 people dead. It includes the main cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been rebel strongholds.

A subsequent statement released by Poroshenko’s office said “mutual understanding was reached regarding the steps that will contribute to the establishment of peace.”

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov later confirmed that the two leaders did discuss steps on the possible basis for a cease-fire but said “Russia cannot physically agree on a cease-fire because it isn’t a party in the conflict.”

Significantly, Vladimir Antyfeyev, a senior leader of the Russia-backed rebels whom Ukrainian forces have been fighting since April, told the Associated Press he could not say whether the separatists would adhere to a cease-fire because he was not commanding the forces. “But I definitely welcome this,” he said. Rebel fighters ignored a previous truce called for in June.

Ukraine and the West say that Russia has been sending troops and weapons to support pro-Russian insurgents fighting Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine since mid-April. Moscow has consistently denied this charge.

President Obama, who was in Estonia Wednesday holding security talks with the leaders of the three Baltic countries that sit on Russia’s western frontier, said it was too early to tell what the latest cease-fire announcement meant. He noted previous unsuccessful attempts and questioned whether pro-Russian separatists would abide by any cease-fire.

In his formal remarks later, Obama was blunt in pushing aside Russian claims that it did not have any military presence in Ukraine.

The Russian forces that have moved into Ukraine, he said, “are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission, they are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks.”

“Just as we never accepted the occupation and illegal annexation of the Baltic nations (by the Soviet Union), we will never accept Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea or any part of Ukraine,” he said

NATO, at its meeting this week in NATO, should takes steps to increase support for Ukraine, including helping “modernize and strengthen its security forces,” the president added.

“This is a moment of testing,” Obama said. “The actions of the separatists in Ukraine and Russia are dark tactics of Europe’s past and ought to be consigned to a distant history.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow Doug Stanglin on Twitter: @dstanglin

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