A U.N. peacekeeping mission to Ukraine will be part of Friday’s talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a spokesman for Putin said Thursday. Hollande and Merkel traveled to Ukraine Thursday to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in an attempt forge an agreement between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders. A spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry said he hoped “clarity” would be brought to the issue of establishing a peacekeeping force. “Such plans have been discussed at the level of experts generally and they remain under discussion,” spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Thursday. “We’ll be watching the progress.”
A peacekeeping force could help end the bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military that has dragged on for almost a year. A fragile five-month ceasefire fell apart throughout January and fighting has picked up to its fiercest level since last summer. Separatists took up arms to protest the pro-European ousting last February of the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was close with Russia. U.S. and NATO officials accuse Russia of supplying weapons and troops to the separatist effort, which has made Putin a major figure in the crisis and key to a lasting peace deal.
A peacekeeping force of “blue helmets,” as U.N. troops have come to be known, would be the first such mission established in Europe since one was put in place in Kosovo in 1999 during fighting between NATO-backed Albanian rebels and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia led by Slobodan Milosevic. There were fewer than 300 U.N. personnel stationed in Kosovo as of Dec. 31, 2014, but there are about 4,000 NATO personnel stationed there as a peacekeeping force.
The U.N.’s most recent peacekeeping mission was established in the Central Africa Republic last April. The CAR has historically been unstable, but the situation has become increasingly dire over the last two years after President Francois Bozizé was ousted and Muslim and Christian militant groups rose to vie for power.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also arrived in Kiev to discuss arming the Ukrainian military with sophisticated weapons that Poroshenko said Ukraine needs to protect its sovereignty against Russia, which Western officials accuse of arming and directly supporting separatists.