Ukraine Drone Deal Near as Merkel Sees Progress on Border

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia showed “some openness” on joint surveillance of its border with Ukraine as French President Francois Hollande called for drones to be deployed as quickly as possible.

Germany and France have taken up a request by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to deploy drones as a way to verify a shaky cease-fire accord in eastern Ukraine. Merkel today said that Russia offered to participate in such surveillance missions under certain circumstances.

“We need to implement this as fast as possible,” Hollande told reporters in Milan after an Asia-Europe summit meeting that included side talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to defuse the conflict. Unmanned aircraft will be able to monitor the movements of fighters and ensure weapons are removed, he said.

The headway made on border surveillance marks a bright spot in otherwise difficult negotiations in Milan to defuse the conflict in Ukraine. Germany and France have already said they’ll send the unmanned devices, though have cited technical and legal barriers to contributing to OSCE missions.

The drones would join an OSCE observer mission in the region. The team is now monitoring the cease-fire agreement negotiated last month in the Belarus capital, Minsk.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment specifically on drones today, saying that leaders had discussed all elements of the Minsk accord.

Drones, Plane

The use of drones in Ukraine has already stoked tensions in the embattled region. The Ukrainian military this week said it observed 10 drones over Donetsk and Mariupol. One directed shelling by Grad multiple-rocket launchers in Sartana near Mariupol on Oct. 14, while a Russian electronic surveillance plane crossed into Ukrainian airspace and Russian helicopters are flying along the border, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said two days ago.

Germany’s Bild newspaper reported today that the German military’s Luna class drone would be unable to fly in Ukraine’s frigid temperatures in the winter, adding to a spate of reports about faulty or aging German military hardware.

The Luna, manufactured by Penzberg, Germany-based EMT, is advertised as an “all-weather, easy to operate” aircraft that can fly farther than 100 kilometers (62 miles) and operate for as long as eight hours, according to EMT’s website. Germany has deployed the drone in Kosovo, Macedonia and Afghanistan.

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