Peacekeepers for Ukraine still a distant prospect after US-Russia talks
Kremlin envoy says 26 of 29 US proposals were unacceptable to Russia
A Ukrainian serviceman exercises with 35kg weight made from 120mm mortars, not far of the crisis front line in Vodyane village of Donetsk area, in October. Photograph: Sergey Vaganov/EPA
Russia and the United States appear to be a long way from agreeing to send international peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine, after their latest round of talks on how to end a conflict that has split the region and killed 10,000 people since 2014.
“We discussed in detail the Russian initiative on deploying United Nations forces to Ukraine,” Kremlin envoy Vladislav Surkov said on Tuesday, two days after he met US special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
“Our American friends handed over their proposals regarding our [UN] Security Council draft resolution – 29 paragraphs. Our delegation considered three of these to be acceptable,” Mr Surkov added.
“It’s not many, of course. But all the same, three is not none. It’s better than none.”
A statement released by the US embassy in Kiev acknowledged the distance that remains between the two sides after the third meeting in as many months between Mr Volker and Mr Surkov.
“It is not surprising that the United States and Russia have different concepts of how to make peace, but we will continue to work to get there,” the statement said.
While US president Donald Trump – dogged by allegations over his links to Moscow – rarely mentions Ukraine in public, Mr Volker and other officials in Washington have given Kiev strong backing in its undeclared war with Russia.
Ukraine says it is working closely with the US and other western powers on the possible deployment of peacekeepers to the eastern Donbas region, to help end its rumbling conflict between government forces and Russian-led separatists.
Neither side revealed details of the talks in Belgrade, which took place just days after the Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was preparing to propose the deployment of 20,000 international peacekeepers to Ukraine.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said last weekend that he knew nothing about any such US plans but was open to proposals on the issue.
After rejecting Kiev’s earlier calls for a peacekeeping mission, Mr Putin said in September that such a force could be deployed to protect international monitors in eastern Ukraine along the so-called “line of contact” between government troops and separatist fighters who are armed and ultimately controlled by Moscow.
Kiev and Mr Volker see that proposal as too limited and want the peacekeepers’ mandate to cover all separatist-held areas, including stretches of the Ukraine-Russia border through which the militants receive supplies from Moscow.
Addressing Russia’s unacknowledged but extensive involvement in eastern Ukraine, Mr Volker said earlier this month that “if they want to get out, there are ways to do that. And that’s what exploring a peacekeeping force and a peacekeeping option can entail, and we would be happy to help.”