"I myself have talked with him [Putin] about it [the UN proposal] again and again, and at my request this has also been done by Angela Merkel," Gabriel told Der Spiegel
German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has repeated calls to relax EU sanctions on Russia in return for Ukraine peacekeepers, but chancellor Angela Merkel is more wary of Russia's initiative.
"It is urgently necessary that we look for a new start against Moscow," Gabriel said in Der Spiegel, a German magazine, on Thursday (14 September).
Line of contact: UN said 26 civilians killed in May to August this year (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)
"Russian president Vladimir Putin has presented a proposal that will significantly improve the current situation, if he is serious. This should be taken as a basis for discussion" with a view to "gradual relaxation of the sanctions", he said.
Putin "has moved towards us", he added.
EU economic sanctions on Russia were made conditional on fulfilment of the Minsk agreement, a ceasefire deal.
It says Russia must withdraw troops from Ukraine and restore Ukrainian control of its borders, in return for Ukraine holding elections in two Russia-controlled territories in east Ukraine.
Gabriel spoke after Russia tabled a UN resolution calling for lightly armed UN peacekeepers to go to the line of contact.
"It is simply unrealistic to say: Only when Minsk is implemented 100 percent do these steps follow. A truly sustainable, lasting armistice would be an important step", he said.
Putin and Merkel also discussed the UN proposal by phone on Monday.
The Russian president made a snap concession, with a Kremlin readout saying: "In light of thoughts voiced by Angela Merkel, the Russian leader indicated a readiness to update the functions of the aforementioned UN mission".
Russia's initial proposal said UN peacekeepers should be deployed for an initial period of six months on "the de facto line of contact between territory under the control of the armed forces of Ukraine and territory of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine".
But Merkel said the blue helmets should be deployed in a wider area, which is currently covered by international monitors from the OSCE, a Vienna-based security club.
The German foreign minister's centre-left SPD is friendlier toward Russia than Merkel's centre-right CDU/CSU party.
The SPD's former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder recently took a job at Russian oil firm Rosneft, stirring controversy.
But when Der Spiegel asked Gabriel if Schroeder had advised him on Russia, Gabriel said: "I'm able to think independently".
The US has cautiously welcomed the Russian proposal, but Ukraine has voiced reservations on the small print.
"We see it potentially as a pathway to restoring Ukrainian sovereignty and also territorial integrity," a US State Department spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
Kostiantyn Yeliseyev, an aide to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, told the Reuters news agency the same day that "the devil is in the detail" of Russia's UN text.
He said UN peacekeepers must control the Ukraine-Russia border and that Russian soldiers must not take part in the mission.
He also said EU sanctions should stay in place until Minsk was fulfilled.
Poroshenko himself has warned that Putin's idea could be a ploy to retain control of occupied territory and to legitimise puppet governments in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk "republics."
"[The mission's] purpose should not be the preservation of Russia's occupation and the legalisation of the Russian military presence", he said on 7 September.
The EU foreign service has not taken a public position on the UN idea.
But EU member states, on Wednesday, extended the life of visa bans and asset freezes on 149 people and 38 entities deemed responsible for "undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine".
The list includes senior Kremlin aides and personal friends of Putin.
The situation in Ukraine "did not justify a change in the sanctions regime" the EU said in a statement.
EU economic sanctions on Russia, which restrict credit and technology transfer to Russian banks and energy firms, expire on 31 January.
The OSCE sent a team of unarmed monitor to Ukraine in 2014.
The Kiev-based mission said in its daily report on Wednesday there were "more [Minsk] ceasefire violations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions [than] compared with the previous reporting period".
It recorded 45 explosions in the Donetsk area fighting and seven explosions in the Luhansk region.
A UN human rights agency, the OHCHR, said on Wednesday that 26 civilians were killed and 135 were injured, mostly by artillery fire, in the 16 May to 15 August period.