Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support today for Ukraine's unilateral cease-fire in its battle against pro-Russian separatists and appealed to both sides to halt all military operations. But he warned that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's blueprint for peace would not be viable without action to start peace negotiations. The qualified Russian backing for Poroshenko's effort to halt the conflict was another in a series of shifting Kremlin moves and statements that leave unclear the level of Moscow's commitment to de-escalating the conflict.
The tone of the latest Kremlin statement contrasted with Putin's move today to order military forces in central Russia to go on combat alert and to launch an exercise for airborne troops. The combat alert in the central military district, which encompasses the Volga region and the Ural mountains but not western Russia, will last until next Saturday and involve 65,000 troops, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. A NATO spokeswoman lamented Moscow's military exercises, saying that "it can be seen as a further escalation of the crisis with Ukraine."