(Vatican Radio) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he fears that Russia could use massive military maneuvers next week as a cover for invasion. He also expressed doubts about Russia's proposal to send a United Nations mandated peacekeeping mission into war-torn eastern Ukraine saying it should not cement "Russia's occupation."
Poroshenko condemned Russia's Zapad-2017 exercises with Belarus, which start September 14th and ends September 20th. They might be "a smokescreen to create new Russian army assault groups to invade Ukrainian territory," he said.
Russia claims 13,000 troops take part in the maneuvers, but regional leaders believe many more soldiers will participate in the operations.
Speaking in an annual address to Parliament, Poroshenko also expressed doubts about this week's proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin for the deployment of lightly armed United Nations peacekeepers in war-torn eastern Ukraine.
Under the plan, the peacekeepers would only protect observers of the Organization for Security or Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who are monitoring the ongoing conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the region.
WHOLE CONFLICT ZONE
President Poroshenko said the UN mission should patrol the entire conflict zone including the border between Russia and the separatist-held parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Kyiv claims is used to ship weapons and military personnel in from Russia. "Under such conditions, the deployment of the UN's blue helmets throughout the entire territory of Donbass would be a real breakthrough in the process of a peaceful settlement, a powerful de-escalation factor," he told legislators.
"Of course the Russian Federation's proposal to deploy a UN mission only for the purpose of protecting the OSCE special monitoring mission is strange at the very least. Moreover, it is Russian militants who pose the main threat to the security of international observers," the president added.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 civilians and combatants in eastern Ukraine since it erupted in April 2014.
Fighting began after Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and allegedly fomented separatism across large parts of the country. Moscow has denied sending troops and weapons to the separatists.