KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday proposed a unilateral cease-fire by his troops to allow pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country a chance to lay down weapons or leave the country, Russian and Ukrainian news agencies reported.
Poroshenko was quoted as saying this would be the first step in the peace plan he has proposed to de-escalate the conflict. Poroshenko's spokesman was not immediately available to confirm the offer of a unilateral move.
The president was quoted as saying: "The plan will begin with my order for a unilateral cease-fire." He added that "shortly afterward the plan will receive support from the other participants."
The proposal, reportedly disclosed during a visit to an army academy in Kiev, comes after a telephone call between Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which a cease-fire was discussed.
The country's defense minister, Mikhail Koval, was quoted as saying the cease-fire could begin "literally within days."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, said that any cease-fire should be "comprehensive," not temporary. However, he said that if it was followed by negotiations "then it could be the step President Poroshenko has promised and which in general we were all waiting for."
Any such cease-fire would raise the question of whether the separatists would respect it, and whether Russia had the desire or the ability to persuade them to do so.
Separatists have seized government buildings, held disputed referendums and declared independence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia. Ukrainian troops have struggled to suppress the insurgents, who on Saturday shot down a military transport plane, killing all 49 on board. Authorities say more than 300 people have died in fighting.
Poroshenko was elected after a protest movement drove his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, from office in February.
In his inaugural address June 7, Poroshenko said he was willing to negotiate with people in the region, but not with "terrorists" with "blood on their hands." He proposed an amnesty for separatists who have not committed violent acts, early regional elections and new efforts to create jobs in the area.