October 10, 2015 / 12:41 PM / 5 years ago

Russia backs bigger OSCE mission in Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the media during the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York, October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Saturday it wanted to see a bigger European monitoring mission in Ukraine to help oversee withdrawal of mortars, tanks and light artillery under recent agreements.

Russia’s backing for an expanded Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission may be a further sign it wanted to see the peace process succeed, an outcome that could eventually lead to Western sanctions against Russia being eased.

“Russia is in favor of increasing the number of observers to the maximum permitted 1000,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said, adding that the mission presently has 543 staff.

“This is especially current in view of the new tasks of fulfilling the agreements of Sept. 29 on withdrawing mortars, tanks and light artillery.”

The ministry made the statement ahead of Moscow talks on Monday between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier.

The OSCE mission in Ukraine operates mostly in two rebel-controlled regions in the east where, under February’s Minsk peace agreements, it is responsible for monitoring a ceasefire between separatist and Ukrainian government forces.

Since the February deal the OSCE has reported numerous ceasefire violations by both sides, as well as evidence they had reneged on previous promises to withdraw weapons, illustrating the difficulties of monitoring the ceasefire.

However, since a new ceasefire came into force on Sept. 1 there has been a marked reduction in violations and new agreements to reduce tensions.

Reporting By Jason Bush; editing by Ralph Boulton

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