Why are the UN peacekeepers not still deployed in the conflict zone in the Donbas?
Ukraine has been calling to deploy a UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbas since February 2015. Russia had rejected any peacekeeping efforts since then. In September 2017, Putin made his own proposal which included limitations detrimental to Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia haven’t agreed the UN mission’s composition and mandate by now.
Back in February 2015 just as the Minsk-2 peace agreement was signed, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called for UN and EU peacekeepers to monitor a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Later Mr.Poroshenko raised the same issue a few more times.
Russia rejected all the proposals, alleging that the Minsk agreements do not imply any peacekeeping force. The last time Russia rejected a UN presence was on 2 September 2017. And three days later, on 5 September 2017, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin reversed Russia’s rejection and himself proposed to bring UN “blue helmets” into Ukraine’s Donbas. However, what Putin talked about wasn’t a full-fledged UN peace enforcement mission, it was a rather limited force that would only freeze the conflict.
What is the difference between the Ukrainian and Russian views on the peacekeeping mission?
Ukraine wants peacekeepers to be deployed throughout the entire occupied area, including the 423-kilometer stretch of the Ukraine-Russia border currently controlled by the Russian-run pseudo republics, “DNR” and “LNR.” Russia proposed the peacekeepers be restricted to the “contact line” between government-controlled and uncontrolled territories merely to ensure the security of the OSCE staff involved in the ceasefire monitoring process under the Minsk agreements.
What Ukraine proposes is a robust UN peace enforcement mission consistent with Chapter VII of the UN Charter (“Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression”). What Russia envisages is a tightly constrained deployment based on the more modest provisions of Chapter VI (“Pacific Settlement of Disputes”).
Ukrainian representatives say that peacekeepers must be deployed primarily in the 423-kilometer section of the Ukrainian-Russian border, which is currently not controlled by Ukraine, and through which military equipment, armaments, military personnel, and mercenaries arrive from Russia, peacekeepers must stay throughout the non-government-controlled territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Meanwhile, according to Russia’s President Putin, “these forces should be located on the demarcation line only and on no other territories” and the conflict would not be resolved with additional security, but “only after disengaging the parties and removing the heavy equipment” which “cannot be resolved without direct contact with representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.”
Ukraine’s President Poroshenko stressed that Russia, as the country-aggressor must be excluded from the peacekeeping mission per the key principles of UN peacekeeping operations.
Ukraine intends to disarm the illegal groups and wants Russia to withdraw the military, mercenaries, equipment, as the Minsk agreements demand. Russia is committed to preserving its military presence.
What would happen if Russia’s proposal is accepted?
The smoldering conflict would rather be frozen for years or decades than resolved.
Secretary of State for European and American affairs at the British Foreign Office, Alan Duncan, commented on Putin’s peacekeeping initiative, “The proposals submitted by Russia to the United Nations seem tempting, but they can be aimed not at restoring the supremacy of international law, but at freezing violations.”
Former NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow noted, “We may find very quickly that the whole thing is purely a PR maneuver designed to give Russia the appearance of being a peacemaker but actually is prolonging or alternatively freezing the conflict – either would be an unacceptable outcome.”
Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin said, “So far, Russia is willing to retain its protectorate over the area, legalize it by introducing a very limited number of peacekeepers, and move on. If this happens, there will be nothing there by definition.”
The conflict in Moldova’s Transnistrian region has been frozen for more than 26 years while Russia continues to fully control the region. In 1992, Russia legitimized its military presence in Transnistria as a peacekeeping force under the ceasefire agreement between Moldova and Transnistria. The Russian contingent stays in Moldova by now, keeping the region from reintegrating into Moldova. Deploying the UN troops exclusively along the contact line in the Donbas instead of the entire occupied territory may have the similar effect: the conflict will be frozen, the territory will formally remain in Ukraine but Russia will keep full control of it.
Does the peacekeeping operation really contradict the Minsk peace agreements as Russia stated?
The Minsk agreements neither deny nor approve the peacekeeping efforts, they don’t mention them.
The Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, also known as Minsk-2, does not mention peacekeeping missions. Instead, they do state that full Ukrainian government control has to be restored over the state border, throughout the conflict zone. In addition, all foreign armed groups, weapons, and mercenaries have to be withdrawn from Ukrainian territory under the OSCE monitoring.
The US special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker believes that the introduction of peacekeepers would be a transmission mechanism to run the Minsk peace process, “We already have the Minsk agreement, which Russia has accepted. The issue is not the deal, the issue is if Russia will uphold it. If Russia will uphold it, then we have the peacekeeping force as a transmission mechanism,” he said.
If Russia agrees, when the operation may start and how many troops are required?
It may take at least 6-10 months for the UN to deploy the mission. The force should consist of some 20,000 soldiers from non-NATO countries and 4,000 police.
Ukraine’s FM Pavlo Klimkin notices:
“If a political decision is made, then, as a rule, it takes at least six, nine or 10 months, or even more, for the United Nations to deploy the mission, and this is a rather large-scale mission,” Klimkin said, speaking on Ukraine’s ICTV channel. “But this does not mean that this will happen at any one point in time, at a certain moment. This will happen in stages. It is important for it to be happening in a way not to let Russia freeze the process at some stage and exploit it to put pressure on us and the West,” he added.
The United Nations should consider a force of some 20,000 soldiers from non-NATO countries and 4,000 police to help resolve the crisis in Ukraine, according to a recent report prepared by Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at Columbia University, for top officials.
Will Russia lose control of the occupied Ukrainian territories if the peacekeeping mission will be deployed?
The peacekeeping mission itself may just stop the hostilities. If Russia later fulfills its part of the Minsk agreements, the Kremlin will mostly lose military control of the Donbas. However, as a result of years-long severe pro-Kremlin anti-Ukrainian propaganda, Russia will have political control even if Ukraine will carry out the elections in the region.
The deployment of the peacekeeping mission will just lay grounds to freeze the whole situation. If Russia will withdraw its troops, equipment, and mercenaries from the region, it will mostly lose its military control of the region which is presently absolute. However, the local authorities of ORDLO (certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) which should be elected under Ukrainian laws will have the right to create “people’s militia units.”
Ukraine’s FM Klimkin assures that the real preparations for local elections will begin not immediately after the deployment of the peacekeeping mission in the entire occupied territory, but after the disarmament will be complete and the real security will be ensured by the international policing force. “And only then, when the situation is completely reset and there is no such thing as occupation authorities there, real preparations for the elections begin,” says Klimkin.
However, after the years of local and Russian anti-Ukrainian propaganda, most of the local residents will probably elect pro-Russian candidates into the local councils and into the Ukrainian parliament.
What countries will join the peacekeeping mission in the Donbas?
The adviser to Ukrainian president proposed Sweden to become a lead nation in the UN mission and welcomed other non-NATO countries to participate in the operation. Sweden, Belarus, and Finland are ready to deploy their peacekeepers in the Donbas. However, Ukraine’s MFA believes Belarus cannot participate in the operation since it remains a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.
In his report, UN expert Richard Gowan considers that “The operation would need a mix of some European [non-NATO] countries, such as Sweden, countries with a track record in peacekeeping, such as Brazil, and countries that have Russia’s trust, such as Belarus.” The report was commissioned by former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, now an adviser to Ukraine’s president. The report was presented to top officials at the latest Munich Security Conference.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian MFA states that Belarus cannot participate in a UN peacekeeping force in the Donbas due to its membership of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal explained, “As far as I know, Belarus has not quit the CSTO and is a member of this organization. If we exclude NATO, it is very logical that we do not say that CSTO countries also participate in the mission.”
As the brokers of Minsk agreements, Germany and France could contribute to UN peacekeeping in the Donbas. However, its next to impossible that Russia would agree for the troops of two NATO member countries in the Donbas near its borders.
Will the UN peacekeeping operation unfold in the occupied Donbas?
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