KIEV , Ukraine, June 23 (UPI) -- As Russia prepares a military maneuver involving 65,000 troops, the Kremlin reversed course and signified its support of a Ukrainian peace plan.
The policy change came as talks opened in Donetsk, Ukraine, involving pro-Russian separatists.
For Russia, it is a clear shift, and Putin added he hopes for success of a peace initiative promoted by Ukrainian politician and businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, in which Medvedchuk intends to mediate a deal between pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Kiev government.
"The fact that President Poroshenko has declared a ceasefire is without question an important step towards reaching a final settlement, and perhaps is one of the most important conditions for this to happen. Russia will certainly support these plans," Putin said Sunday.
The pro-Russian Medvedchuk was chief-of-staff to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and has personal ties to Putin, the godfather to one of Medvedchuk's daughters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed with Putin, telling the official ITAR-Tass news agency, "There is no alternative to ceasefire that should be announced and observed. If the Ukrainian crisis is resolved by force, this will hamper stable political settlement."
Last week Lavrov was critical of Poroshenko's proposals.
While Putin offered hope for a negotiated peace, Russia began preparations for staging military maneuvers in its Central Federal district, which includes Moscow and abuts Ukraine. Over 65,000 troops will be on high alert in the next week.
The Interfax news agency reported negotiations began Monday in Donetsk -- where pro-Russian separatists have overtaken Ukrainian military installations, creating a scene of heavy fighting -- between Russia, Ukraine and the self-proclaimed Ukrainian breakaway People's Republic of Donetsk.
The talks involve Medvedchuk and Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, representative for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe chairman-in-office Heidi Tagliavini, and leaders of the separatist movement.