Russia will ask the U.N. Security Council to send peacekeepers to patrol the front line in eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday, a development greeted by Germany as a new opportunity for detente.
Fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in the region has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014. A 2015 peace deal brokered by Germany and France helped reduce the scale of fighting, but regular clashes have continued.
The separatists have opposed Ukraine's suggestion to deploy peacekeepers in the war zone.
Putin told reporters Tuesday that peacekeepers could help ensure safety for international observers who are monitoring the cease-fire.
But he insisted the peacekeepers should be deployed only along the line separating the rebel-controlled territories and the area under government control where the clashes occur. Russia's foreign ministry will file a formal request with the U.N. Security Council, Putin said.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he found Putin's announcement "surprising" but said he was "very glad ... the Russian president said today he will continue to negotiate about demands that were rejected in the past by Russia."
"More importantly, this offer of a U.N. mission in eastern Ukraine shows that Russia has effected a change in its policies that we should not gamble away," he told reporters on the sideline of parliament in Berlin.
"It would be good if we take it as an opening to talk about new ways of detente."
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said in New York that he has sent a draft resolution to the council president and to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and hopes to circulate it in the near future to all council members.
He told the council the U.N. peacekeepers would provide security for the observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "This would progress a solution of the problem in southeastern Ukraine," Nebenzia said.
Ukraine's envoy to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko, told the Security Council that Ukraine's president made a similar proposal to deploy U.N. peacekeepers in March 2015.
"We consider that such deployment could greatly contribute to the restoration of peace and security in the east of Ukraine" which was undermined by Russia's "aggression" and support for separatists in the region.
Yelchenko said the mandate of a U.N. peacekeeping mission "should be carefully drafted and our delegation is ready to take an active part in its consideration" as soon as council members return from a visit to Ethiopia. The council is expected to be back at work in New York on Monday.
The Ukrainian president's envoy for peace in the east, Iryna Gerashchenko, however, said earlier Tuesday that Ukraine would agree to a deployment of the peacekeepers only in the separatist-held territories, not on the contact line.
The "Normandy Format" peace talks between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France have largely stalled of late, with a truce timed to the start of the new school year breaking down almost immediately after it was agreed upon at the end of August.
Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber and David Rising in Berlin and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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