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Henry M. Robert

What to expect from peacekeepers in the Donbas, if “there is no alternative to the Minsk process”

15 November, 2017 - 19:36

How would Ukraine benefit from peacekeepers deploying in the Donbas? In what way would the blue helmets be better than the OSCE’s current mis­sion, which due to its cautious attitude to the activities of the groups calling themselves Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and the very limited nature of its own operations has long been a cause of dissatisfaction among Ukrainians and the subject of sad jokes?

These issues have worried for some time a growing number of Ukrainians who are following the news. The latest meeting between Vladimir Putin’s assistant Vladislav Surkov and US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, held in Belgrade and featuring precisely a discussion of the possible peacekeeping mission in the Donbas, has made this topic even more relevant.

Summing up the meeting, Surkov said that “American friends” had communicated their proposed amendments to the Russian draft of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution, amounting to “29 paragraphs,” and specified that the delegation of the Russian Federation agreed with only three of them. So, no one has a clear idea at the moment what the peacekeeping mission in the Donbas will look like, and whether it will happen at all.

However, there is something that we can be sure of right now: UN peacekeepers are always an instrument of the international community with clearly defined limits and rules of their activities, which are used for the specific purpose of securing peace. This “peace” and this goal of the peacekeeping mission can differ greatly case-by-case, it all depends on what the warring parties will agree to and what decision the UNSC will make. It is clear that, most likely, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements will be the political goal of the peacekeeping mission in the Donbas. Let us recall that on February 17, 2015, the UNSC unanimously endorsed the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements adopted and signed in Minsk on February 12, 2015. The initiator of this decision was the Russian Federation, a permanent member of the UNSC.

There is an example in international practice where the goal of the peacekeeping contingent was to monitor compliance with the military and political agreement between the parties to the conflict, namely in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the peacekeepers themselves secured the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords. Responsibility for the implementation of the treaty, signed in December 1995 by re­presentatives of the parties to the conflict – the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, was entrusted to NATO, and it was the Alliance that started the peacekeeping mission at that time.

The IFOR, or the Implementation Force, had the mandate of the UNSC from December 20, 1995 to December 20, 1996. During that time, a stable peace was established in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the first post-war elections were held. In December 1996, the IFOR mission transferred its powers to the SFOR, the Stabilization Force. The main purpose of the SFOR was to create safe conditions for civilian and political recovery in the country.

During the next eight years, the Dayton Accords had been more or less implemented, the situation in the country had stabilized, and in December 2004, the leadership of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina was transferred from NATO to the EUFOR (the European Union Force). However, the Alliance has maintained its significant presence in the peacekeeping force.

The mission EUFOR Althea (named in honor of the Greek goddess of healing) aims to ensure compliance with the Dayton Agreements and, in addition, to promote the European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and develop its own armed forces. (As you can see, it has little in common with the powers of today’s OSCE observers in the Donbas.)

On November 7, 2017, the UN Security Council once again extended the mandate of the EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina for another year, as the international community still fears the resumption of the conflict.

One could offer an example of the troublesome present state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the peacekeepers’ response to it.

Last year, a local election in the city of Stolac saw the vote degenerating into fights between Muslims and Croats and attacks on the polling stations. The EUFOR entered the city... and all immediately calmed down. After some time, a new election was held, and this time it was quiet and peaceful.

Assessment of the success of peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina is contradictory. Ostensibly, they have completely fulfilled their purpose. But the very fact that 22 years after the end of the war, the peacekee­pers are still present in the country, tells us that something is wrong there.

However, the problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina do not really originate with the peacekeeping forces, but rather with the Dayton Accords, which stopped the armed conflict, but failed to ensure the trust and cooperation emerging between former enemies and the full functioning of the state which was “sewn” together from hostile “patches.”

Peacekeepers are always a derivative of political agreements that have been reached, they only implement decisions taken by policy makers. There are, of course, examples of the blue helmets acting independently and taking some kind of action outside the scope of their autho­rity, but such cases are isolated and non-ty­pical exceptions. That is why, when analyzing the likely effectiveness of the peacekeeping mission in the Donbas, we need to carefully examine once again the arrangements which may enable this mission to begin. If, as we are told, “there is no alternative to the Minsk process,” then the peacekeepers will only ensure the implementation of these agreements, and not “return the Donbas to Ukraine” like it was before the war, as some optimists imagine. Is there any benefit for Ukraine in it, then? Of course, the war should stop.

Meanwhile, while the decision on peacekeepers has not been taken yet, we invite you to read in detail the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, adopted and signed in Minsk on February 12, 2015, in order to know in which country we are likely to have to live. And get ready for a peacekeeping process that will last for years, if not for decades.



Kostiantyn HRYSHCHENKO, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine:

“From the contacts I had with Volker, I can say that he quite firmly insists on certain principles. With Surkov, he is working not so much on the resolution that will certainly be needed if these negotiations succeed to any extent, but rather on a set of certain principles that should be the basis for a political settlement, including the involvement of peacekeepers. Without such principles, bringing thousands upon thousands of peacekeepers will not make sense. Of course, Ukraine is not present at these talks, but Volker informs the Ukrainian side quite promptly. Maybe he does not tell us everything, but everyone understands that those compromises (and without them they will not be able to move forward), which will be agreed during these meetings, will have to be pushed through the Verkhovna Rada. It is therefore important for the Americans to know what is fundamentally important and at the same time implementable. This is especially so given that the election season has almost begun in Ukraine, and the MPs will be sensitive regarding such votes and take into account the likely reaction of the people.

“The issue of possible compromises is a complex one and it is rather difficult to focus on some specific provision. When we have dozens of elements in the menu, ceding ground on one of them gives one the opportunity to demand concessions on another one from the other party. It is clear that a number of requirements which were agreed in the framework of the Minsk Agreements are today met with significant hostility by the Ukrainian public. The fact that the parties only agreed on three items points to the fact that we will not have a set of solutions for these possible compromises appearing soon. Unfortunately, domestic political slogans can become an obstacle. It is very dangerous, when instead of real strengthening of defense, only calls for radicalism are heard. Populism is a major obstacle to constructive compromise. Let us not forget that the current government is not interested in the electorate that has remained in the occupied territories of the Donbas and Crimea. And this is also a deterrent explaining why they are in no hurry to tackle this issue. It is very advantageous for some forces to posture as defenders of the nation, but do nothing to resolve the situation.”

 Interviewed by Valentyn TORBA, The Day