German Chancellor Angela Merkel says any UN peacekeepers that may be deployed to eastern Ukraine under a proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin must be allowed access to all areas held by pro-Moscow forces.
“I find President Putin’s proposal to send UN troops to protect OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) observers interesting,” Merkel stated Friday during an interview with the country’s FUNKE newspaper group.
“A few days ago I discussed with him that the UN troops must have access to everywhere where the OSCE is stationed, so the entire Donetsk/Luhansk region,” she added, using an acronym for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The OSCE observers are in Ukraine to monitor the implementation of the peace agreements signed between the Ukrainian warring parties in the Belarus capital of Minsk in 2014 and 2015 – with the mediation of Russia, France and Germany — in a bid to settle the conflict.
The deals have, however, failed to end the violence, which has left over 10,000 people since 2014, with both sides accusing each other of violations.
Merkel’s comments come amid growing calls in Germany for the lifting of European Union (EU) sanctions against Russia over what the EU and the US allege to be its intervention in Ukraine, an allegation strongly rejected by Moscow.
German politicians have called for the lifting of the anti-Russia sanctions if the peace treaty is implemented. Leader of Germany’s Free Democrats Party Christian Lindner, who is a likely coalition partner for Merkel following the country’s upcoming election later this month, has even hinted that Germany must accept Russia’s authority over Crimea.
The Crimean Peninsula decided to separate from Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation in a popular referendum in 2014, months after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern regions, known as Donbass.
Following the vote, the Western states, which view the development as the Russian “annexation” of the territory, imposed a series of sanctions against Moscow.
Merkel, however, underlined that Putin’s proposals were “tender shoots” of progress, “which give no cause for softening sanctions” so far. She further rejected Lindner’s suggestion.
“The annexation [of Crimea] is against international law and must not be accepted,” said the top German official.
Putin reportedly mentioned the idea of deploying UN forces to eastern Ukraine in a Monday phone conversation with Merkel, suggesting that the UN force could protect the OSCE observers.
Kiev is a close ally to both the European Union and the United States. They accuse Russia of supporting the anti-Kiev forces operating in Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking regions. Moscow denies involvement in the conflict.