Are peacekeepers in Donbass a workable solution?

Alexander Hug, chief monitoring mission of OSCE in Ukraine (L) and Ukrainian military servicemen, members of Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC) mission.

Alexander Hug, chief monitoring mission of OSCE in Ukraine (L) and Ukrainian military servicemen, members of Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC) mission.

AP
Bringing armed peacekeepers into the Donbass Region as a way out of the current crisis in eastern Ukraine appears to be gaining increasing favour. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko spoke of the desirability of sending a police mission to the Donbass, while his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin called for deployment of military observers from the OSCE. Are the two leaders, while superficially making similar statements, actually talking about different things?

In an interview with a Ukrainian TV channel on April 24, President Petro Poroshenko elaborated on his earlier expressed proposal to send foreign peacekeepers into the Donbass Region. He said an OSCE police mission could be sent to the breakaway region of eastern Ukraine.

Members of this mission should be able to provide effective monitoring across the entire line of contact. Despite the fact that the earlier intense fighting in the Donbass Region has ended, regular shelling and shooting continues even today, and people keep dying. Both sides blame the other for these incidents. Poroshenko’s premise is that the OSCE should identify violators of the current ceasefire. Members of this mission would also have to organize armed posts in areas to where heavy weapons have been withdrawn, and on the section of the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Donbass Region that is not under Kiev’s control through which, according to Ukrainian officials and Western countries, Moscow is providing support to the rebels.

Poroshenko said the OSCE mission would not be limited to this objective. The OSCE would also work on reaching a political settlement. To the employees of this organization would be assigned the task of holding elections in the Donbass Region, ensuring that they are “free and fair”, and ensuring “the transfer of power to new representatives of Ukrainian Donbass”.

Kiev insists on having its own way

Speaking of this possible mission, the Ukrainian President referred to the Minsk Agreements; the roadmap to the peace process, approved by the participants of the ‘Normandy Four’, or leaders of Germany, Russia, France, and Ukraine in February last year in the Belarusian capital. According to analysts, Poroshenko, in outlining this idea, has again reiterated Kiev’s approach to the peace process, which is opposed to Russia’s.

This plan involves security issues, including transfer of control over the border to Kiev, and only after that, a political settlement. Such a scheme, Moscow believes, would only enable the Ukrainian authorities to first “clean up” the region of unwanted people, and then Kiev would simply imitate the political process.

The Minsk Agreements call for a different sequence of events. The transfer of control over the border would happen after a series of political reforms, related to giving the Donbass Region special status within Ukraine, and holding of elections there, based on a law specially enacted for this purpose. However, the required legislation and reforms required appear to be hopelessly mired in the Ukrainian parliament. Many members of parliament believe that Kiev has made too many concessions for the eastern part of the country.

Does Russia support Poroshenko’s plan?

Poroshenko said his idea is supported by the United States and Ukraine’s partners in the Normandy Four format; in other words, Russia as well.

Indeed, President Putin said on April 14 that he supported Poroshenko’s proposal on “Strengthening OSCE’s presence in the Donbass Region, including with weapons”. Meanwhile, a little later, his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the presence of OSCE forces in the Donbass Region must first be approved by the members of this organization. It is necessary to carry out a “direct dialogue” with Donetsk and Lugansk, necessarily taking into account the opinion of these two self-proclaimed republics.

It is clear that such conditions will not be acceptable for Kiev which, from the beginning of the conflict, has avoided any direct dialogue with the breakaway regions.

These are not the only differences in Moscow and Kiev’s approaches to the idea of ​​armed OSCE representatives coming into east Ukraine. Vladimir Mukhin, military analyst and columnist for the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, said Putin and Poroshenko are talking about different things. The Russian president is proposing to arm current OSCE observers, so they could defend themselves, given the frequent attacks that are taking place, while the Ukrainian leader is talking about “significant forces to enforce [peace], which would replace the armed forces of the local authorities [DPR and LPR].”

Poroshenko’s “incomprehensible scheme”

Alexey Arbatov, member of the Scientific Council of the Moscow Carnegie Centre, said Poroshenko, in his opinion, “vaguely imagines the nature such an operation” and has proposed a rather “vague scheme”. According to him, it is not clear what Poroshenko means. Does he wish to provide small arms to OSCE observers, which could hardly “fend off bandits”, or does he feel it is necessary, to really separate the two sides, to supply them with heavy weapons?

In a recent article, Arbatov himself proposed a plan to insert peacekeepers into the Donbass Region. He explained to RIR that these proposals are an elaboration of Putin’s words. The region, he said, needs a full-scale peacekeeping operation with a UN mandate. The peacekeepers must be well armed and should be supplied with armoured vehicles, artillery, and helicopters. They should be placed along the separation line of the parties, and not in the entire Donbass region, as would be the case in a police mission. One of the key conditions for the success of this plan, which Arbatov stresses, Poroshenko has said nothing about, is the presence of Russian military peacekeepers in the contingent. Otherwise, peacekeepers will not be accepted in the self-proclaimed republics, because they do not trust people from other countries.

Alternative to peacekeepers – a new war?

Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the Donetsk PR, was quick to react negatively to Poroshenko’s suggestion, saying the current mission’s mandate does not include the presence of armed members in the OSCE mission. According to Zakharchenko, sending any OSCE military contingent to the breakaway region would be regarded as an intervention. The DPR and LPR would consider Poroshenko’s plan, in its current form, as an attempt by Kiev to capture the rebellious Donbass Region under the guise of international organizations, Mukhin points out.

Arbatov noted that the presence of peacekeepers, among which Russian military personnel would be included, would enable the placement of observers on the border between Russia and the Donbass Region. This would put an end to all talk about the presence of Russian troops in the east of Ukraine, of which the West has been accusing Russia. Since the cross-border supplies for Russian peacekeepers would take place under international monitoring, this would lead to the lifting of sanctions and the improvement of relations between the West and Russia.

There is only one alternative to this plan, according to the analyst – the inevitable deterioration of the situation, a new war in the east of Ukraine and deepening of the political crisis between Russia and the West, with the prospect of large-scale military confrontation developing.

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