German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday that his government had submitted a proposal a day earlier that would allow for two drones to be in the air at all times to observe the truce between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia rebels.
But it was unclear whether the plan was viable, Mr. Steinmeier said, since both Berlin and Paris also want to send armed personnel to provide security for the teams operating the drones—a deployment that could prompt objections from Moscow and faces a possible legislative hurdle in Kiev.
“I don’t want to hide the fact that political and legal questions must still be resolved,” Mr. Steinmeier said.
Top-level diplomacy is likely to resume at a summit of European and Asian leaders in Milan this coming week that Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, will attend.
“Looking at eastern Ukraine, we know that we remain far away from a true political solution despite some steps forward that have been accomplished,” Mr. Steinmeier said.
Scattered fighting has continued despite the five-week-old cease-fire, with particularly intense clashes at the airport in Donetsk, the last part of that city held by government forces.
Mr. Poroshenko on Friday visited soldiers some 20 miles from Donetsk, the largest city in the rebel-held territory.
Dressed in fatigues, he conducted a check of their combat-readiness and ordered construction of three lines of defense in the region, his office said.
He also replaced the governor of Donetsk region with an army general, in another sign that he is preparing to dig in along what is looking increasingly like a border with the separatist-held territories,
The previous governor, billionaire industrialist Serhiy Taruta, was appointed only in March.
In recent weeks he had criticized Mr. Poroshenko’s offer of more autonomy to the separatists as part of a Russia-backed peace plan.
A rebel leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, was quoted Friday by official Russian media as saying he had signed a deal with Kiev on a “demarcation line.”
Ukrainian security spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko denied any such agreement had been reached.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation group that is monitoring the Sept. 5 cease-fire, requested drones from its member countries last month to keep track of events on the ground.
France and Germany said they would consider providing them.
But their request to send armed teams as well to safeguard the drone operators could run into resistance at the OSCE, a civilian organization that includes Russia, which would have to agree to the plan.
The proposal also is ruffling feathers in Germany, where public opposition to foreign military engagements runs deep.
After meeting with Mr. Steinmeier in Berlin on Friday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that drone surveillance was necessary to make sure that “every violation of the cease fire can be recorded and those responsible can be identified.”
Mr. Klimkin said that his government would he do whatever was necessary to guarantee security for the drone operators.
But German officials noted that getting the plan through the Ukrainian parliament in the run-up to national elections on Oct. 26 would be logistically challenging.
Two Austrian civilian drones purchased by the OSCE arrived in Ukraine recently, but the organization said Friday that it would take at least another week for teams to arrive to operate them.
“Definitely we need more drones,” Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE’s special monitoring mission in Ukraine, said.
“They are going to be our eye in the sky.”
Mr. Steinmeier said at the news conference with Mr. Klimkin that Germany had not yet received an official response from the OSCE to its proposal.
A spokeswoman at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna said proposals from both France and Germany were under discussion.
German officials declined to comment on how much personnel they were seeking to send.
Paris wants to conduct the plan in tandem with Berlin and is therefore waiting for Germany to secure the necessary approvals before moving ahead, a French official said.
France and Germany eventually intend to send about 10 drones each, the official added.
The official said France agreed with Germany on the need to send armed troops to protect drone operators.
At least 331 fatalities have been recorded in eastern Ukraine amid ongoing violence since the agreement to end fighting was signed on Sept. 5, the United Nations said this past week.
Daily clashes are continuing around the towns of Debaltseve, Shchastya and the Donetsk Airport, Col. Lysenko said.
Three civilians were killed and five wounded on Thursday, according to the Donetsk city council.
Source: The Wall Street Journal