There has been more and more talk in the world lately about the possibility of deploying UN peacekeepers in the Donbas. In particular, Iryna Lutsenko, representative of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko in the Verkhovna Rada, says that the UN peacekeeping mission force in the Donbas may comprise 30,000 people, including 20,000 “blue helmets” and 5,000 policemen. But it is not quite clear who the remaining 5,000 peacekeepers will be, for they are neither “blue helmets” nor policemen. In general, Lutsenko’s information repeats the proposal of NATO ex-secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen who said in Munich that it is necessary to send 20,000 peacekeepers and 5,000 policemen to the Donbas.
Let us ask first of all if this number is sufficient. A lot of factors should be taken into account here. The population of the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts is about 4 million. At a most conservative estimate of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the so-called “people’s militia” numbers 20,000 men in the “DNR” and 14,000 in the “LNR.” And, according to Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, the strength of the “L/DNR’s” two “army corps” was 35,500 men in the fall of last year. They have modern tanks, self-propelled artillery, field artillery, air defense systems, armored personnel carriers, reconnaissance vehicles, and other heavy weapons at their disposal. Conversely, Donbas peacekeepers will, by all accounts, have no heavy weapons, except for armored personnel carriers armed with machineguns only. Even today, the assumed strength of peacekeepers is 4 to 5 thousands men less than that of the two self-proclaimed republics’ armies.
But, according to Ukrainian military journalist Yurii Butusov, Russia’s Ministry of Defense took measures as far back as March 2017 to increase the armies of Donbas separatists from 38,000 to 50,000 men. In all probability, this decision has been fulfilled now – by hook or by crook. In this case, there will be 1.7-times as few peacekeepers as the Russian-separatist troops, and if we take into account only the 20,000-strong military component of the peacekeeping force, the superiority of Russians and separatists over the peacekeepers will be 2.5-fold.
Besides, at the most optimistic estimate, there will be a gap of at least 6-10 months between the UN Security Council’s political decision on deploying peacekeepers in the Donbas and their arrival at the now occupied territories. What will hinder Russia, which will still be in full control of border with the occupied part of the Donbas, from transferring additional contingents of troops – be it 10 or 20 thousand – with standard weapons and hardware? Besides, the armies (“army corps”) of the “DNR” and the “LNR” in fact consist of either Russian servicemen or local residents taught in Russian training units and serving under the command of Russian officers.
Now let us see which peacekeeping forces are deployed in Europe now. The first example is Bosnia and Herzegovina. The republic’s population is 3,862,000 people, i.e., in fact as much as in occupied part of the Donbas. The Bosnian army proper numbers 10,500 men who represent the three main peoples of Bosnia – Muslims, Serbs, and Croats. They are armed with 45 tanks, 20 APCs, as well as man-portable air defense systems, self-propelled antiaircraft artillery, etc. Under the Dayton Agreement, a EUROFOR (European Rapid Operational Force) contingent is stationed in Bosnia on the basis of a 313-strong Austrian company and battalion headquarters and a 234-strong Turkish company. In addition, there are 255 servicemen from 17 countries and 28 OSCE observers.
At first glance, it is not much, and, in comparison with these figures, a 30,000-strong peacekeeping force in the Donbas looks gigantic. But one should not forget that the war in Bosnia ended 23 years ago and the Slobodan Milosevic regime, which rendered generous military aid to the Serbian regular army and Bosnian Serbs, has fallen since then. And, immediately after the Dayton Agreement was signed in 1995, a 60,000-strong NATO stabilization force (IFOR, later SFOR), with Americans accounting for a half of it, was deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Incidentally, there was also a Russian brigade there, but it did not play a key role. The stabilization force had a broad-ranging mandate and was abundantly equipped with modern weaponry and hardware, including warplanes. So, to establish effective control of security in a region comparable with the Donbas separatist republics in terms of the population and territory, it was considered necessary to deploy, immediately after the actual cessation of hostilities, an international military force equipped with up-to-date heavy weaponry with a strength double that of the contingent that may be deployed in the Donbas.
Let us now turn to the Republic of Kosovo with a population of 1,883,000, which is half the population of the occupied part of the Donbas. The Kosovo security forces number 2,500, i.e., 20 times fewer than the troops of Donbas separatists and their Russian allies, and they are armed with small arms only. As the hostilities in Kosovo stopped in June 1999, about 50,000 KFOR (Kosovo Force) servicemen, also armed with all kinds of heavy weapons, entered the republic. Taking into account bitter enmity between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs – even more bitter than it was in Bosnia and Herzegovina – and the proximity of Serbia which is hostile to Albanians, it was decided to deploy almost twice as large force as the one in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now the strength of the KFOR contingent has been reduced to 4,473, excluding OSCE observers, because Serbia is striving to join the European Union and is not going to attack Kosovo. But in the conditions when Putin’s Russia is always there, peacekeepers should be deployed in the Donbas on the Kosovo pattern – about 100,000 men, i.e., 3.5 times more than Poroshenko’s inner circle is suggesting now, and peacekeepers should be vested with the right to use heavy weapons.
An understanding seems to have been reached that the future peacekeeping force will not include member states of military blocs. It is for this reason that, for example, Belarus was sifted out, although Lukashenko was eager to be a peacemaker and even asked for a handsome quota of 10,000 soldiers for his country. Taking into account that it is approximately the strength of all the Belarusian land forces, this raises a suspicion that Russian soldiers might as well come to the Donbas in the guise of Belarusian peacekeepers. But NATO countries are also barred from taking part in the peacekeeping mission. It is doubtful that affluent European neutrals, such as Sweden, Switzerland, or Austria, will let their soldiers go to the Donbas. In all probability, peacekeepers will be sought in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or Oceania. The fighting capacity of their troops is much lower than that of the Russian army, and they will feel as if they were hostages of separatists, rather than peacekeepers, in the Donbas. This is why I am still skeptical about a UN armed mission in the Donbas. It is unlikely that a mutually-acceptable 30,000-strong, let alone a 100,000-strong, force will be recruited for this mission.