Russia's President Vladimir Putin today agreed to widen the terms for a proposed UN force to protect observers monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but his proposal was unlikely to get Kiev's agreement. Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call that he was willing to see the mission operate "not only on the front line after the warring sides and their hardware is pulled back, but also in other areas" where the the monitors operate, the Kremlin said. Russia last week asked the UN Security Council to authorize the deployment of a lightly-armed mission to protect international observers monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Originally Putin proposed allowing the mission to operate exclusively along the dividing line between the two sides. Merkel's office said in a statement that Putin shifted his position after the German leader insisted that "some changes in the mandate were necessary." Ukraine -- which has long called for United Nations peacekeepers to be deployed -- fears Moscow is simply trying to ease the international pressure it faces and would use any force to lock in gains made by Kremlin-backed rebels. Ukraine insists a fully-fledged UN mission should patrol the whole of the conflict zone and the porous border between Russia and the rebel-held territory. Kiev rejects Moscow's demand that any deployment needs to be agreed by rebels it sees as puppets of the Kremlin. Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of being behind the insurgency in a conflict that has killed 10,000 people since 2014. Despite overwhelming evidence of its involvement, Moscow continues to deny that it has played a role in the fighting. Some 600 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are on the ground in eastern Ukraine but their presence has failed to stop the fighting. A peace plan brokered by Germany and France in 2015 has hit a wall, with Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of not fulfilling their obligations.
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