MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending an envoy to Ukraine at the request of President Viktor Yanukovich, to try to mediate talks between the government and opposition, Russian news agencies said on Thursday.
Russia had until now steered clear of open involvement in any efforts to mediate between Yanukovich and his foes in an escalating dispute that began when the Ukrainian leader scrapped plans for deals with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow.
"Putin decided to send (Russian) human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on this mission," state-run RIA quoted Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, as saying after a telephone conversation between Putin and Yanukovich.
Itar-Tass reported that Lukin was on his way to the airport for a flight to Kiev.
Despite offering a $15 billion bailout seen in the West as a reward for Yanukovich's policy reversal, Russia has said it was not interfering. It has accused the West of meddling and warned against "imposing mediation" on Ukraine.
Peskov said Ukraine had initiated the phone call, which came on a day during which Yanukovich met the foreign ministers of EU nations France, Germany and Poland in Kiev. At least 50 people have died in the unrest since Tuesday.
Lukin, 76, is a liberal former member of the Russian parliament and a former ambassador to the United States. His ten-year stint as Russia's human rights commissioner is due to end shortly.