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Will “blue helmets” come to the Donbas?

Oleksandr MOTSYK: “The mission must be able to control the entire territory and all its points that may number in hundreds and thousands”
15 February, 2018 - 12:07

Some details of a report on a peacekeeping mission in the Donbas, penned by Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the Columbia University in New York, have entered the media space lately. It will be presented at the Munich Security Conference, which will take place on February 16-18, with its attendees including, in particular, the US Department of State’s Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker; as is known, he takes part in talks with the Russian president’s assistant Vladislav Surkov on the prospects and format of a possible peacekeeping mission. Interestingly, this report was commissioned by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Secretary General of NATO and adviser to President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

• Firstly, Gowan advises the UN to send 20,000 soldiers from non-NATO countries and 4,000 police officers to the Donbas to help resolve the conflict in Ukraine, according to a Reuters report.

• Secondly, the expert points out that the mission would need a mix of some European countries, such as Sweden, countries with a track record in peacekeeping, such as Brazil, and countries that have Russia’s trust, such as Belarus.

• Thirdly, such a peacekeeping operation should help local elections to take place in eastern Ukraine, as discussed in the Minsk Agreements, the third anniversary of which was marked a few days ago. According to Gowan, after the election, peacekeepers must stay in the region for another two years, which would serve as a cooling-off period for the parties to the conflict. At the same time, international police would also be crucial because it would help to deal with any protests that could follow such a vote.

It is worth noting that although the talks between Volker and Surkov are not making any significant progress on the way to launching a UN peacekeeping operation in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, calls for sending such a mission appear with increasing frequency.

Recently, American diplomat and former Deputy General Secretary of NATO Alexander Vershbow posted on Twitter: “Reminder that Eastern #Ukraine is definitely not a ‘frozen conflict.’ Time for a robust #UN peacekeeping force to enable full implementation of #Minsk agreements – or else tighten US and EU sanctions against #Russia.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said during a meeting with Ukrainian President Poroshenko in Vienna that his government stood ready to support the idea of deploying a peacekeeping mission to the Donbas, Ukrinform reports.


The Day began our conversation with the representative of Ukraine in the working subgroup on political affairs of the Trilateral Contact Group of the Minsk Process and former Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oleksandr MOTSYK by asking him to assess the points of the report and, in particular, the number of peacekeepers who are planned to be sent to the Donbas.

“First of all, it is good that there is such a report that will be submitted to the Munich Conference. Of course, the peacekeeping mission should be numerically strong enough to fulfill all its functions, namely to have access to practically all of the occupied territory of the Donbas and to completely close the stretch of the Ukrainian-Russian border that is not currently controlled by Ukraine (and it is approximately 415 kilometers long). The mission should be quite numerous, since in practice, it must be able to control the entire territory and all its points that may number in hundreds and thousands. Therefore, if we are talking numbers, then 20,000 is the lowest figure that can be discussed. Some experts say it would be better to have 50,000 peacekeepers there. In my opinion, it would be good if there were more than 20,000 peacekeepers, but to determine how many are needed, one should look at the territory itself, in order to ensure that all the points will be covered and the mission will be effective.

“Another issue is that Russian troops, mercenaries, weapons, and equipment which have been illegally brought into our territory should be withdrawn from the occupied territory. All illegal entities must also be disarmed. This is a requirement of paragraph 10 of the Minsk Agreements, which, incidentally, Russia and the separatists have not complied with. To date, Russia has not fulfilled a single provision, and the lack of progress in the Minsk negotiations is the fault of the Russian Federation.”

It is proposed to include in the force soldiers from Sweden, Brazil, and Belarus. What dictates such a choice?

“As for Sweden and Brazil, this is a good proposal. I would have added to these countries Finland and Austria, which are neutral, non-aligned, have experience in peacekeeping operations and will be trusted on the one hand by Ukraine, and on the other by the Russian Federation.

“It is known that Russia is categorically opposed to military units of NATO member countries participating in a peacekeeping mission, as it is a military bloc of the West. Logically, the question arises whether the mission may include countries that belong to another, albeit not so powerful, military bloc, called the Collective Security Treaty Organization or the Tashkent Pact, which includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. There is no logic to including their servicemen in the peacekeeping mission.

“And if we are talking about Belarus, there is another issue as well, because that country is part of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. Therefore, if we apply the principle that bloc countries may not take part in the mission and if it does not involve NATO, then on the other hand, the countries that belong to the Tashkent Pact should not take part either.”

The theme of peacekeepers is being discussed increasingly frequently, and as you mentioned, this report will be presented at the Munich Security Conference. In your opinion, what can force the Russian president to make concessions, and what should happen to achieve a breakthrough on this issue?

“The behavior of the Russian president shows that he may agree to compromises only under very strong pressure from the West, namely, the US and Europe. This suggests that the sanctions should remain in place and there should be no debate on lifting them: on the contrary, we need to talk about their strengthening, since Russia is still failing to comply with the Minsk Agreements. The recent decision by the US Treasury Department to publish lists of sanctionable individuals which include representatives of the Russian government, the Presidential Administration, and businessmen adds pressure to Russia.

“Russia has brazenly violated international law, committed an act of aggression, and it did that in Europe, against a sovereign country that is a founding member of the UN. It dared to violate international law, the Budapest Memorandum, according to which Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons, the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and binding bilateral Russian-Ukrainian documents, in particular, the 1997 Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and Russia, also known as the political treaty between our two countries.

“In order to have Russia back on the track of respect for international law, it must withdraw its troops and armaments, and stop its support for the militants. Until this happens, it is necessary to keep the sanctions on and to intensify them. It will offer hope that Russia will come to the negotiating table for real one day.

“So far, Russia has not taken any steps towards finding a way out of the crime it committed against Ukraine by occupying Crimea, illegally attempting its annexation and occupying the Donbas.”

By Natalia PUSHKARUK, The Day