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Ukraine, Russia presidents say ceasefire deal near

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko have said their two sides have reached a ceasefire deal. Germany's foreign minister has called the announcement a "sign of hope."

Poroshenko said Wednesday he hoped the peace process to end the conflict in Ukraine's east could begin on Friday in the Belarusian capital. "I greatly hope that on Friday in Minsk the peace process will finally begin," he said in a statement.

"The people of Ukraine are fully in favor [of peace], while politicians want to play at war. I want to say that I will not allow this," Poroshenko added.

The ceasefire plan, agreed to during a telephone conversation, aims to end fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists, which has been going on in eastern Ukraine for more than five months.

"Our views on the way to resolve the conflict, as it seemed to me, are very close," Putin told reporters in Mongolia.

Ceasefire details

Putin spoke to the conditions of a ceasefire, saying Ukraine must withdraw all its troops and pro-Russian separatists must agree to stop offensive actions in eastern Ukraine. He said international monitors must be in place to observe any truce that is reached.

The plan, published on the Kremlin's website, says both sides must agree on an unconditional exchange of prisoners. It also rules out using combat aircraft against civilians in the conflict zone and calls for the creation of "humanitarian corridors" for refugees and aid deliveries.

Gipfeltreffen in Minsk Putin und Poroschenko 26.08.2014

Putin and Poroshenko met face to face in Minsk last month

Talks between the separatists, government officials from Ukraine and Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are scheduled to be held in Minsk on Friday.

Harsh words from PM

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk slammed Wednesday's peace proposal announcement, calling it an attempt by Russia to deceive the West and avoid new sanctions.

"The real plan is to destroy Ukraine and to restore the Soviet Union," he said in a statement.

"All previous agreements made with Russia - in Geneva, in Normandy, in Berlin and Minsk - were ignored or brazenly violated by the Russian regime," Yatsenyuk added.

'Sign of hope'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the "cautious" discussion of a ceasefire in Ukraine "perhaps a small sign of hope," but said that the next few days would reveal just how significant it was.

"Whether it's also good news will only crystallize in the coming days when it's confirmed on the ground that the weapons are actually quiet," Steinmeier said during a speech in Hamburg.

He urged both Ukraine and Russia to prove "that both sides and, above all, the Russian side, is actually looking for the path to a truce."

Obama: 'too early to tell'

US President Barack Obama told a

news conference in Estonia

that "it's too early to tell" how serious the truce reports were.

Obama said no realistic deal could be achieved if Russia continued to aid separatists by sending send tanks and troops into Ukraine.

The US President was speaking after talks with Baltic leaders. His trip is aimed at

reassuring Eastern European nations

anxious over developments in Ukraine.

dr/sb (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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