Putin backs sending force to protect Ukraine monitors

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Xiamen, Sep 5: Russian President Vladimir Putin today supported the idea of deploying an international force to eastern Ukraine to help protect monitors observing the conflict. "I consider the presence of peacekeepers -- one could call them not peacekeepers, but people who ensure the safety of the OSCE mission -- to be completely appropriate," Putin told a press conference following a BRICS summit in China. He insisted that any force should only "assure the security" of the unarmed mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It should be restricted to operating on the "demarcation line" between Ukranian troops and Russian-backed rebels, and only deployed once heavy weaponry has been withdrawn, Putin said. The Kremlin leader ordered his foreign ministry to prepare a UN Security Council resolution on deploying the force. Some 600 international OSCE observers are on the ground in eastern Ukraine, but their presence has failed to stop fighting in a conflict that has killed 10,000 people since 2014. Ukraine -- which has previously called for UN peacekeepers to be sent in -- accuses Russia of being behind the insurgency that has gripped swathes of its former industrial heartland. Despite overwhelming evidence of its involvement, Moscow continues to deny the allegations by Kiev and the West. A European-brokered peace plan that was put forward in 2015 has hit a wall, with Moscow and Kiev accusing each other of failing to fulfil their obligations. The warring sides on the ground remain locked in a stalemate that sees regular exchanges of deadly artillery fire.