Russia has proposed a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on the establishment of a UN mission that would provide security for Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors’ activities in eastern Ukraine. “I consider the presence of peacekeepers, or rather people who would provide security for the OSCE mission, absolutely appropriate, and see nothing wrong with it,” said Russian President Putin following the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, on September 5.
According to the Russian draft resolution, a UN mission should focus solely on providing security for the OSCE officials. The forces should operate on the contact line between Ukraine’s forces and the militias of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The protection of OSCE observers by the UN is envisioned not only on the disengagement line but also in other places where the OSCE personnel would go to monitor the compliance with the Minsk accords.
The Russian initiative was welcomed by the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said that successful deployment of UN peacekeepers could become the first major step towards lifting the anti-Russia sanctions. According to him, implementation of this proposal could even lay the foundation for a “new period of détente” in relations between Europe and Russia. US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker neither supported the initiative nor rejected it off the cuff. According to him, the initiative had to be considered.
It should be noted that the idea is not new. It was first discussed in November 2014 by Russian and US unofficial experts on the Finnish island of Boisto. It illustrates how useful unofficial contacts could be.
Ukraine has a different plan backed by the United States. It insists the UN forces should be deployed across the entire territory of the self-proclaimed republics stretching to Russia’s border. According to Ukraine’s proposal, the organization of this mission has to be carried out without consent of one of the conflicting parties, i.e. Donetsk and Lugansk, while the Russian resolution insists on this condition a priori. Ukraine wants a peacekeeping mission from NATO countries. Russia’s offer envisions a multinational mission not limited to any military-political bloc. It wants the mission to be a broad ethnic composition open to worldwide control.
The Russian proposal needs to be considered seriously. It may not be a solution to all the issues of the conflict but, if implemented, it could be a big step forward as the Minsk accords don’t work. No measure of the Minsk II agreement has had any traction so far. Even the ceasefire has been frequently violated.
While the Minsk process is at a dead end, a peacekeeping mission will provide a momentum. Deploying OSCE troops under the mandate of the UN Security Council along the demarcation line could become an impetus for starting to unravel the mess. The draft resolution may take some tweaking but it can serve as a basis for launching a negotiation process to find a compromise.
Indeed, Ukraine badly needs a peacekeeping mission. The mission should be conducted according to Article 7 of the UN Charter (allowing the use of force) so that it could suppress violations of the cease-fire. For that purpose it needs helicopters, drones, armored vehicles and artillery. Instead of being deployed on the territory of the self-proclaimed republics, the multilateral force should occupy a corridor between the two ceasefire lines of the Minsk accords. Ukraine will have to forget idea of repeating the “Croatian scenario”.
The command of NATO or the EU is not an option. Instead, a special staff under the UN or OSCE control should be formed. Neither NATO, not the EU could be trusted after Kosovo, Libya and other failed missions.
Russian peacekeepers should be part of the UN mission; otherwise the self-proclaimed republics would not cooperate. If Russian contingent is a party and the peacekeepers come and go freely, than the border between the Lugansk Republic and Russia could be placed under OSCE control to be transferred to Ukrainian border guards but only after Ukraine complies with its obligations according to the Minsk II accords.
Direct contact with representatives of self-proclaimed republics in Donbas is a must. No truce is possible without their compliance.
If the operation succeeds, Russia and the West could start easing or lifting mutual sanctions. There is a risk the mission would lead to a frozen conflict but such a stalemate is much better than real fighting with human suffering and destruction it entails.
The draft resolution demonstrates a clear desire of Russia to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The FY 2018 US National Defense Authorization Act, which has just been approved by the Senate, authorizes $500 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including lethal and non-lethal equipment, training, and technical assistance. If Russia’s proposal works, there will be no reasonable explanation for sending lethal weapons to the country where there is no conflict. Instead of taking sides, Russia and the US could join together providing expertise as the OSCE has no experience deploying military observers, not to mention conducting real peacekeeping operations.
The initiative is a good reason for Russian and US officials and experts to meet each other and negotiate. They need to make precise what divides them and where the views converge. There will be differences to overcome but there is no easy way to resolve the conflict. After all, the confrontation between Russia and the West related to Ukraine significantly impedes the process of joining effort to fight a common enemy—the international terrorist network. The Russia’s initiative provides a unique opportunity to seize.