(Adds Kremlin quotes, upgrades sourcing)
MOSCOW, Feb 20 (Reuters) - 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, the Kremlin said on Thursday.
Russia had until now avoided 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 EU in favour of closer ties with Moscow.
Yanukovich telephoned Putin and asked him "to send a Russian representative to Kiev to participate as a mediator in the negotiations process with the opposition", the Kremlin said in a statement.
"Vladimir Putin decided to send human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on this mission," it said.
Russian news agencies reported that Lukin would travel to the Ukranian capital on Thursday, but state-run RIA quoted him as denying a report that he was already on his way to the airport.
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.
The telephone call 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 former senior member of the Russian parliament from a liberal party and a former ambassador to the United States. His 10-year stint as Russia's human rights commissioner is due to end shortly.
Lukin "has very rich experience of diplomatic service, substantial authority among rights activists, and has led a large opposition party", the Kremlin said in its brief statement.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Thomas Grove and Alison Williams)