The mission is a key feature of a peace roadmap, which France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine discussed in Berlin on Wednesday. Pro-Moscow rebels have objected to the deployment of armed observers in east Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin backed the deployment of armed observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to war-torn eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Thursday.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, made the announcement after the Russian leader held four-way talks on the Ukraine conflict with the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine (this four-way constellation was named the "Normandy format" after their first gathering, early in the Ukraine conflict, on the sidelines of a June 2014 commemoration of D-Day landings) in Berlin on Wednesday. "Putin agreed to the deployment of such a mission during the talks," he told reporters. "There is an understanding on the positive nature of the deployment of such a mission, but it needs to be worked out in the framework of the OSCE."
The OSCE is the world's largest intergovernmental organization for security. However, this will be the first armed mission the OSCE has ever conducted, a spokesman said.
Its Special Monitoring Missions (SMM) currently has 580 unarmed monitors based in east Ukraine conflict zones. It recently had its mandate extended to Mach 2017.
According to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, leaders considered the armed mission a key factor in drawing up a peace roadmap. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized that local elections in rebel-held areas need to advance before the armed OSCE monitors could be deployed.
Pro-Moscow rebels object proposal
Putin's decision sparked fierce objections from pro-Moscow rebels.
A separatist leader in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk said that his self-proclaimed republic was against the measure. Denis Pushilin said: "The fact that we are against an armed OSCE mission is not only the personal position of the leadership of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic. It has been confirmed at rallies with several thousand people that took place on our territories."
More than 5,000 people took to the streets of Donetsk in June, protesting against the deployment of armed OSCE monitors in the region. Many similar rallies have taken place since.
Merkel said on Thursday that "no miracles" were agreed during yesterday's Berlin talks, but said some progress was made on ending the deadlock in the peace process.
A ceasefire agreed among the leaders in 2015 has helped reduce hostilities; however the agreement quickly frayed as fighting continued and both sides accused each other of failing to keep to the accord's conditions.
Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and has backed pro-Moscow insurgents fighting against Ukrainian forces. However, Moscow has denied that it is sending troops and arms across the border to fuel the conflict.
The conflict has claimed around 10,000 lives since it erupted in April 2014.
dm/msh (AFP, AP)