In an attempt to use to Russia’s benefit the Ukrainian proposal for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in the occupied part of the Ukrainian Donbas, which President Petro Poroshenko has been promoting for more than two years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has allegedly agreed to change his position in a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While he stated before that the UN peacekeeping mission had to be deployed only along the line of contact between the parties to the conflict, now, according to spokesman of the German government Steffen Seibert, he has come to agree that this mission should protect the OSCE observers wherever they operate under the Minsk Agreements. Taking into account Merkel’s position, Putin even expressed his readiness to supplement the mission’s mandate as described in the Russian-proposed draft of the UN Security Council resolution.
Meanwhile, yet another controversial point of the Russian proposal – the need to coordinate the mission with thugs and terrorists in the Donbas which is proposed by the Kremlin – has been missing from the media reports.
That is, we are witnessing another occasion of the Kremlin using a classical technique which it has been using throughout the former Soviet Union – first to create a problem, and then to pretend to help to solve it. This is our first conclusion. Secondly, in this specific case, we see that the Russians were opposed to it for a long time, and then suddenly agreed to the UN mission in Ukraine, but immediately put forward terms which Ukraine a priori would reject, enabling Russia to bargain and make supposed concessions. Actually, this happened to a certain extent in the Putin-Merkel conversation already.
The position of Ukraine on this issue has been clear from the very beginning: any peacekeeping mission, whether under the auspices of the UN, or the EU, or the OSCE, should be deployed throughout the occupied territory, and in particular, along the currently uncontrolled by Ukraine section of the Ukrainian-Russian border, and Russia should be barred from participating in such a mission due to it being the aggressor nation. In addition, our government has declared that it does not intend to discuss this issue with the militants who are not really a party to the conflict because they act on the orders of Russia, which is a party to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, although it tries to present its aggression as an “intra-Ukrainian conflict.” Russia’s demand to limit the mandate of the UN mission only to protecting the unarmed OSCE mission has been criticized as well.
The downside is that the Ukrainian authorities keep ignoring the need to act ahead, because they were talking about the UN mission for two years, and then the draft resolution was introduced to the UN Security Council by the Kremlin, and on its own their terms. Once again, Ukraine has to respond. Volodymyr Yelchenko, who serves as Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN, said that Ukraine had penned a draft Security Council resolution of our own on the deployment of a peacekeeping mission to the Donbas, which stated that no Russians were to be allowed to participate in the mission, and that the peacekeepers themselves were to be deployed along the Ukrainian-Russian border. However, he suggested that Ukraine could take part in the discussion of the Russian project as a basis for making the changes desired by Ukraine and its allies.
According to journalist Yurii Butusov, Merkel forced Putin to start a full retreat from the Novorossia project. He posted on Facebook: “Yes, this marks a decisive shift in Germany’s position towards supporting Ukraine! The deployment of peacekeepers for the protection of OSCE staff means that the OSCE mission will now be reinforced by a military contingent from Europe, that is from NATO countries, and that the OSCE mission will also work at night as it will have armed guard available. But most importantly, the mission will work not only on the frontlines, but also along the border with the Russian Federation, thus controlling arms transfers. This radical change in the situation in the Donbas offers new opportunities for Ukraine.”
Is that true? And what is Putin aiming for with this move?
“THE HIDDEN PURPOSE OF PUTIN’S STATEMENT WAS TO CIRCUMSCRIBE THE MISSION OF PEACEKEEPING FORCES FROM THE OUTSET”
Dmytro TYMCHUK, MP, People’s Front faction:
“The hidden purpose of Putin’s statement was to circumscribe the mission of peacekeeping forces from the outset. There are several types of peacekeeping missions, including separating the parties to a conflict, coercing them to keep peace, and so on. Putin’s vision of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbas limits its mandate to protecting the OSCE observers. Under such conditions, it is highly doubtful that such a mission would be able to somehow effect the de-escalation of the conflict. In fact, the OSCE observers will carry out the same functions as they did before, but they will have more security guarantees. While people could threaten them with weapons before, they would not be doing this now. Still, it is clear that were, say, the OSCE observers to move somewhere with the UN escort and were the militants to bar them from some area, then it is unlikely that the UN mandate will foresee the use of force against such militants. Moreover, these blue-helmeted guards are unlikely to have heavy weapons. I also doubt that without such weapons, they will be able to act in any way against the militants who have tanks, heavy armored vehicles, artillery, and so on. In essence, such a mission will not change anything, except increasing the effectiveness of the OSCE mission to an extent. But this is not the key to resolving the conflict.
“There are other risks. The deployment of such a mission to the Donbas can become the pretext for the beginning of the lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia. Russia will say that it complies with the demands of the international community and tries to accommodate the wishes of the Ukrainian side, and therefore there is a reason for the sanctions to be lifted. Germany has already demonstrated its long-held ardent desire to lift these sanctions against the Russian Federation. It seems sometimes that Merkel and the German Foreign Office live in parallel political universes. Merkel acts to maintain her positive image and avoid suspicions of being sympathetic to the Russian side. I would like to remind you of the 2014 protest where she was called names such as Frau Ribbentrop. I think that she now wants to change this attitude as the election approaches. On the contrary, her own opponents are now saying what the Germans who have suffered some damage as a result of the absence of trade with the Russian Federation want to hear.
“It can be recalled that Ukraine also proposed the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to the Donbas to resolve the conflict. Russia opposed it. But then the format of this mission was not clear. And now, Putin has made a flanking move and seized the initiative from Ukraine, imposing his own approach. In the end, Putin wants it to allow Russia to be able to claim that it is working to resolve the conflict, but he also wants no real change to occur. This entire story regarding Putin’s peacekeeper project looks like a multi-layered scheme, and as far as I understand it, our government was not ready for it.
“At the same time, were the Russian side to adhere to a number of starting provisions of the Minsk Agreements, and were the removal of forces and equipment to be followed by a complete ceasefire, then Ukraine will have to carry out the political part of the agreements. It is a sort of saving grace for us that the militants do not comply with these starting provisions and, accordingly, there are no conditions for moving to the political section, including holding elections in the occupied territory. If the ceasefire takes hold, Ukraine will have to explain why we do not comply with the political section of the agreements.”
“UKRAINE NEEDS TO TAKE INITIATIVE ITSELF”
Kostiantyn HRYSHCHENKO, former minister of foreign affairs:
“Putin’s statement on the UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbas was of a general nature, so it is important to clarify details. The UN Security Council is the forum where you can do this, because both the draft resolution sponsored by the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian initiative have been introduced to it. During the consultations, it is necessary to clarify what exactly Russia is prepared to do in addition to the primary content of its initiative. The devil is known to be in the detail. Therefore, it is difficult to assess the situation on the basis of general political statements.
“The deployment of peacekeepers would be effective were the parties to work at the same time on the deployment of a certain body that would be responsible for the fulfillment of the relevant mandate on the ground. This mandate must also be formulated within the framework of the Minsk Agreements, because there is no other legal basis for it.
“Ukrainians should take the initiative within the UN Security Council where we are represented today, and hold active consultations in order to determine what the Russian side is ready to do. Then it will be clear whether this is just a political declaration on Putin’s part, or indeed a step towards accommodating those who are interested in a real solution to the problem of establishing a lasting peace in eastern Ukraine. I emphasize, it is necessary to understand the essence and the details of how it is proposed to implement this initiative. This is a rather complicated diplomatic process. At the very least, one should not miss he opportunity to find out how far Russia is ready to go in its actions. To do this, we have at least three allies in the UN Security Council – France, the UK, and the US. These nations are unequivocally interested in the territorial integrity of Ukraine and in the ceasefire taking hold as soon as possible.
“Any peacekeeping mission has a mandate. This mandate takes into account both precedents and practice, but at the same time includes provisions that are truly unique to a particular situation. In our case, there are a lot of such issues, but they can be taken into account very well.”
VOICE FROM FACEBOOK
“ONCE AGAIN AIDED BY OUR GERMAN ‘PARTNERS,’ PUTIN IS WINNING ON OUR TURF”
Serhii HARMASH, editor of the OstroV news website:
“All media outlets ran the news that Putin agreed to deploying peacekeepers in the Donbas, and not only along the line of contact, but also throughout the occupied territory, even at the border. At the same time, they forget about the following important point: Putin sees the mission of peacekeepers in the protection of the OSCE mission. And only in that! That is, if the observers will be present at the border, there will be peacekeepers there, if they will not, there will be no peacekeepers there. And how many people does the OSCE mission have? Will they be able to cover the border? There are about 700 of them for 400 kilometers of the border. And then, they are just observers and have to monitor not only the border, but the entire area! So what do we get from such peacekeepers? Let us suppose that a ceasefire takes hold on the line of contact (and then I doubt even it, because this is not the mission of peacekeepers, their purpose, I remind, is limited to protecting the OSCE observers), and what then? Will the so-called ‘republics’ continue their ‘peaceful development’? What does Ukraine get from such freezing of the conflict? Will it recover the Donbas? Will internally displaced persons be able to return to their homes? Will Russia retreat from the occupied territory? No! None of this will happen. It is just that the observers will not be so scared to drive along the roads of the Donbas and communicate with the angered and war-exhausted locals. And that is all! A lot of words signifying nothing! That is, Putin, supposedly, makes concessions to Ukraine, agrees with its initiative on peacekeepers, but this is all a smokescreen. In the eyes of the whole world, he shows goodwill, but in fact only agrees to maintain the status quo. It benefits him, but harms us. That is, once again aided by our German ‘partners,’ Putin is winning on our turf.”