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article imageGermany seeks Ukraine peacekeepers mandate by March

By Dmytro GORSHKOV (AFP)     Jan 3, 2018 in World

Germany's foreign minister said on Wednesday he wanted to establish a mandate for an armed UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine before Russia's March presidential election.

Sigmar Gabriel told reporters after talks in Kiev with Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin that such a force was "essential" for ensuring the territorial integrity of the war-scarred former Soviet state.

"This has to be a strong armed mission that is present across the entire territory of the conflict zone," Gabriel said in comments translated into Ukrainian.

Russia denies playing any role in the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people and plunged Moscow's relations with the West to a post-Cold War low since breaking out in April 2014.

But it also strongly opposes an armed foreign presence in its western neighbour -- often referred to in Moscow as Russia's "near abroad".

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to coast to victory and secure his fourth term as Kremlin chief in polls set for March 18.

He has only backed establishing an armed peacekeeping mission along the front line splitting insurgent-controlled territories from the rest of Ukraine.

The Kremlin is also categorically opposed to placing armed UN peacekeepers along parts of its border with Ukraine not under Kiev's control.

But Gabriel -- whose country along with France helped negotiate a long-abandoned 2015 peace plan for the only war in Europe -- said Russian presidential elections should not factor into UN negotiations on deploying a mission to Ukraine.

"The establishment of a firm peace settlement should not depend on elections in Russia," Gabriel said.

"And I hope that we will be able to adopt a realistic and appropriate mandate for the UN mission before the election in Russia is held."

- Weapons for Ukraine -

Gabriel's visit came with Moscow's ire peaking over Washington's decision to greenlight the supply to Ukraine of powerful US anti-tank missiles for the first time.

Klimkin said the weapons would only be used for defensive purposes and not spark a new escalation in the war.

"These weapons can and will be used in case of a provocation by Russia," said Klimkin. "But as you well understand, they will not be used for offensive purposes."

Yet Gabriel said he viewed such deliveries with scepticism.

"If there is one thing there is too much of in this region, that is weapons," Gabriel said.

"We in Germany take a rather sceptical view of arms deliveries being able to resolve conflict."

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