KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A day ahead of a NATO summit, Ukraine issued a vague statement Wednesday about agreeing with Russian President Vladimir Putin on cease-fire steps for eastern Ukraine. The Russian-backed rebels rejected the move, saying no cease-fire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces.
The back-and-forth came as President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia in a show of solidarity with NATO allies who fear they could be the next target of Russia's aggression. NATO is holding a summit in Wales on Thursday, with plans to approve a rapid-response team to counter the Russian threat.
The rebels ignored a 10-day unilateral cease-fire that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had called in June. There have also been previous statements of agreements on steps for peace, but the conflict between separatists and the government in Kiev has only intensified since it began in mid-April.
In a brief statement, Poroshenko's office said Wednesday that he and Putin were in agreement on a cease-fire: a "mutual understanding was reached regarding the steps that will contribute to the establishment of peace."
Poroshenko's office first said there was an "agreement on a permanent cease-fire," but later revised its statement to say an "agreement on a cease-fire regime." The changes — which appeared in Ukrainian, Russian and English versions — seemed to indicate the two leaders agreed on the conditions necessary for a cease-fire, not that one would imminently be implemented.
Then the rebels weighed in.
"As long as Ukrainian forces are on the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic, there can be no ceasefire," rebel official Vladislav Brig told The Associated Press.
Stock markets jumped on first reports of an agreement, but later eased back slightly. By early afternoon in Europe, Russia's MICEX benchmark was up 2.7 percent, while the ruble rose 1.4 percent against the U.S. dollar.
Germany's DAX index, which has been particularly sensitive to news regarding the Ukrainian crisis because of the country's economic ties with Russia, was up 1.2 percent.
Obama said it was too early to tell what the announcement meant. He noted previous unsuccessful attempts and questioned whether the separatists would abide by any cease-fire.
"We haven't seen a lot of follow-up on so-called announced cease-fires," Obama said. "Having said that, if in fact Russia is prepared to stop financing, arming, training, in many cases joining with Russian troops activities in Ukraine and is serious about a political settlement, that is something we all hope for."
Ukraine, NATO and the West have accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to support the insurgents. Moscow has denied the charge. AP reporters on the ground have run into numerous Russian fighters among the rebels and have seen large convoys of heavy military equipment driving in eastern Ukraine from the direction of Russia.
After a meeting with Poroshenko last week, Putin said a cease-fire was not discussed because he claimed that Russia was not a party to the conflict.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by Russian news agencies on Wednesday as saying the leaders had "largely agreed on steps that would be conducive to a cease-fire," but repeated that Russia is not involved in the fighting.
Rebel leader said earlier this week that they would respect Ukraine's sovereignty in exchange for autonomy. The rebels previously have called for full independence for their regions or possible absorption into Russia. Putin has ignored their calls for annexation — unlike in March, when Russia annexed the Crime
Poroshenko has spoken in favor of devolving some of the central government's power to regions, but that is far short of autonomy for the rebel regions.
Over the weekend, the European Union leaders agreed to prepare a new round of sanctions that could be enacted in a week, after NATO accused Russia of sending tanks and troops into southeastern Ukraine. A NATO summit in Wales on Thursday is also expected to approve measures designed to counter Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 2,600 people and forced over 340,000 to flee their homes, according to the U.N.
Vasilyeva reported from Moscow. Peter Leonard in Mariupol, Ukraine, contributed reporting.