The first drones have arrived in Kyiv to support an international mission monitoring the shaky ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Germany and France are considering sending troops to help observer efforts.
The first two unmanned aerial surveillance drones from Austria landed in Kyiv on Monday, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Once the craft have cleared customs, they are to be be deployed in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, where teams of civilian experts will operate them from the ground, OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.
He added the two drones should eventually form part of a four-vehicle contingent aimed at boosting the mission's monitoring capability along the Russia-Ukraine border.
The OSCE is tasked with ensuring that a Moscow-backed truce deal, struck on September 5 between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists, remains in place. The organization currently has some 200 unarmed observers who are monitoring the ceasefire.
The OSCE plans to expand the size of its monitoring mission to around 500 civilian staff, Bociurkiw added.
The monitoring mission is also keeping an eye on a 30-kilometer (18.7-mile) buffer zone, which stretches from the border city of Luhansk to the port city of Mariupol.
Despite the truce, fighting between the pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces has continued in the east of the country, where both sides are locked in a battle for control of the government-held Donetsk airport. At least 80 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed in the one month since the ceasefire has been in place.
Drones from France and Germany
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday that France and Germany also had plans to contribute their own drones to the mission in eastern Ukraine.
"We will send drones to protect all that, we will help maintain the ceasefire in the coming days," he told RTL radio. "We are studying with Germany how we can together reinforce monitoring of the ceasefire and the buffer zone."
Meanwhile, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer indicated on Monday that Germany and France were preparing a proposal to send soldiers to accompany the drones in surveillance and monitoring efforts along the border.
Quoted by news agency Reuters, Schäfer said the plan would be presented in the "next hours or days" but said there were still "some political and legal questions that must be resolved," such as the role of the Bundestag lower house of parliament in approving such a mission.
Later on Monday, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is expected to arrive in Kyiv for a two-day visit to discuss Washington's role in supporting Ukraine. She will then travel to Berlin on Wednesday to meet German government officials.
nm/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)