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Home News Russia says backs arming monitors in east Ukraine

Russia says backs arming monitors in east Ukraine

Published on 04/06/2016

Moscow on Saturday said for the first time it would agree to foreign monitors observing the separatist conflict in east Ukraine to carry arms.

Kiev has been pushing for an armed observer mission in the area where the existing unarmed monitors of the fragile ceasefire between government forces and Russia-backed separatists have reported an upsurge in violence.

Until now, Moscow has opposed the presence of any armed peacekeepers, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia would not oppose having some monitors with pistols for “self-defence”.

“We have proposed that there are reinforced, 24-hour teams of OSCE monitors in places of heavy weapons storage,” Lavrov said in an interview with Rossiya state television channel.

“We also said that we will be ready to agree if the OSCE decides to give its monitors on the line of contact and in places of heavy weapons storage the right to carry weapons.”

He referred to “pistols for self defence”, suggesting it would give the monitors “an element” of a police role.

OSCE chief Lamberto Zannier has previously said he is open to sending armed personnel to Ukraine provided all sides agree.

The conflict in east Ukraine began in April 2014 following the toppling of the Russia-backed president in Kiev and Russia’s subsequent annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of fuelling the conflict and reinforcing the separatists of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk “people’s republics” through the porous frontier. Russia has denied sending in troops and weaponry.

So far, the 25-month conflict has killed 9,371 people, UN figures showed Friday. A series of truce agreements reduced the violence but an escalation in May claimed the lives of 26 Ukrainian soldiers and an undisclosed number of rebels.

The OSCE has also been affected by the fighting with its convoys coming under fire, staff threatened and two of its drones shot down in the past week.