UN Peacekeepers: Last Chance to Stop the War in Donbass?

UN Peacekeepers: Last Chance to Stop the War in Donbass?

In light of the Ukrainian government’s evermore militaristic proclamations and the anticipated delivery of American weapons to Kiev, the possibility of preserving the fragile peace in Donbass looks all the more phantasmal. The Minsk peace process increasingly appears to be de facto buried, and the recent legislative initiative, whose source is none other than Poroshenko’s presidential administration and which seeks to officially declare Russia the “aggressor country”, will bury Minsk-2 de jure.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest initiative represents perhaps the last chance at implementing the Minsk Agreements which, let us recall, were reached at the urgent request of the Ukrainian authorities following crushing defeats dealt to the Ukrainian Armed Forces by the Donbass militias. On September 5th, Putin announced that he supports the idea of a UN peacekeeping contingent in Donbass. Let us quote at length the most important lines of Putin’s statement:

“I believe the presence of peacekeepers – one can say not even peacekeepers, but people who are to ensure the security of the OSCE mission – to be entirely appropriate and I see nothing wrong here. On the contrary, I believe that this would work to the benefit of resolving the problem in the South-East of Ukraine.”

However, Putin did stress that such a mission must have as its mandate “only the function of ensuring the safety of OSCE personnel.” He added: “Secondly, these forces must in this regard be on the frontline and in no other areas. Thirdly, this issue should be solved only after the sides are pulled back and heavy equipment is withdrawn, and this cannot be decided without direct contact with representatives of the self-proclaimed republics, the DPR and LPR.”

On the very same day that Putin made this statement, Russia sent a draft resolution on the deployment of peacekeepers to the contact line in Donbass to the President of the UN Security Council, Tekeda Alemu, and Secretary-General António Guterres.

This was immediately followed by what was, without exaggerating, a sensational statement by the OSCE, which is interested in improving the level of security of its personnel. The organization’s response highlighted the importance of ensuring the safety of international observers of the Special Monitoring Mission. On this note we should recall how in April one such peacekeeper, a US citizen, was killed when an OSCE SMM patrol ran over a mine and exploded. The mission’s personnel have also repeatedly been the targets of premeditated terror attacks, such as famous cases in which observers, obtaining information of an impending terrorist attack on them beforehand, urgently evacuated the territory of the LPR, thus preventing the death of other monitor mission employees.

The US State Department, meanwhile, has agreed to look into the issue, as one of its spokesmen said in an interview for RIA Novosti: “We do believe the possibility of a UN peacekeeping force for eastern Ukraine is worth exploring as a means of protecting Ukrainian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, and as a pathway to restoring Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In an interview for German media, Germany’s Social Democrat foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, remarked that the presence of blue helmets in Donbass might be a step towards defusing the tension in relations between Moscow and the West. However, the German government, in the face of its cabinet of minister’s deputy spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, has expressed opposition to involving the authorities of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in discussions on the conditions for deploying peacekeepers in Donbass. By shoving one of the conflict’s sides away from the opportunity to participate in negotiations, Germany’s representative is a priori dooming the peace initiative to failure.

A similar attitude was expressed yesterday, September 7th, by none other than Ukrainian President Poroshenko, who stated that any kind of agreement with the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics on the parameters of a UN peacekeeping mission is out of the question. Poroshenko also demanded that UN peacekeepers be “deployed throughout the whole occupied territory of Donbass.” Rather characteristically, this same line was voiced on Twitter by the former Secretary-General of NATO who is currently the Ukrainian President’s freelance advisor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The response which Putin’s statement has met in Ukraine and NATO countries says a lot. Allow us to briefly present our several observations on the matter.

First and foremost, Putin’s initiative is probably the last chance to prevent war in Donbass, a war which Kiev is not even trying to hide that it is very much preparing for. The delivery of American weapons, if they do come, will make a new, big war in Donbass inevitable.

Secondly, the Russian President’s initiative is the quintessence of the main demands of the Minsk Agreements concerning an immediate ceasefire. This cannot be achieved without providing the necessary level of security to OSCE SMM observers or expanding the observer corps.

Thirdly, the criticisms of sending UN peacekeepers to the demarcation line in Donbass that have been heard in Western countries have been in solidarity with the Kiev government’s official position, which thereby indicates that they are not objective assessments.

Fourthly, by barring DPR and LPR representatives from negotiations, Ukrainian and Western politicians are essentially denying the legitimacy of the Minsk Agreements, of which Germany and France are signed guarantors. After all, let us recall that the DPR and LPR are named parties and participants in the Minsk negotiation process. Thus arises a logical problem: Why were the Donbass republics allowed to be party to the talks in Minsk and why are they being denied the right to negotiate terms for deploying UN peacekeepers?

Fifthly, deep within the Poroshenko Administration, a bill has been prepared and is being submitted to the Verkhovna Rada which would declare Russia to be the “aggressor” and Donbass to be a territory “occupied by Russian troops.” Of course, the Ukrainian side has presented no evidence of Russian troops in Donbass whatsoever. Nevertheless, Poroshenko is putting the idea of “occupied Donbass” into political circulation and is using the international debate surrounding the safety of OSCE SMM personnel for purely propaganda purposes. By driving the issue into such a narrow corner, Poroshenko is effectively making any further discussion and negotiation impossible.

Sixthly, Putin’s proposal for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, and paying attention to the safety of OSCE SMM observers is a logical development of the first point of the Minsk Agreements, whereas President Poroshenko and his ex-NATO advisor’s demand that UN peacekeepers’ operations be extended to cover all of the “occupied” territory of Donbass, including the “Russian-Ukrainian border”, is nothing but a perversion of the Minsk Agreements. The Minsk Agreements clearly established a road map and sequence of actions: first, a complete ceasefire must be established and weapons withdrawn; then all socio-economic and humanitarian ties between Donbass and Ukraine must be restored in full, and then Ukraine must fulfill a number of political demands (including granting amnesty to people in the DPR, LPR, and Ukraine itself, adopt a law granting Donbass a special status, etc.) Only then is transfer over the border currently controlled by the DPR and LPR to be handed over to Ukraine. Thus, President Poroshenko wants to avoid implementing Ukraine’s obligations in the Minsk Agreements and immediately receive the prize of control over the border.

Vladimir Putin’s proposal opens a promising opportunity for implementing at least the most important part of the Minsk Agreements – a ceasefire. The further fate of the initiative, however, arouses skepticism. After all, the Ukrainian authorities are not really interested in the security of OSCE observers and even less so the safety of the people of Donbass. Nevertheless, we are now left with following the fate of the Russian resolution in the UN Security Council and hoping for positive changes.

Originally published on fort-russ.com