Former deputy chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lt Gen (Reserve) Ihor Romanenko has said fighting in Donbas can be stopped within a year, but restoring Ukrainian sovereignty in those territories may take years.
"The return of Donbas can be interpreted as the end of the war. This is quite a long way. [For example,] Russia and Japan are still in a state of legal war, territorial claims have not been resolved yet. There are quite a lot of countries in the world that are in such a state," the expert said, commenting on the statement by advisor to Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky Ivan Aparshyn that Donbas could be returned to Ukraine within five years, according to the Ukrainian online news outlet Obozrevatel.
According to Romanenko, it is necessary to conduct an all-for-all swap and stop the hostilities to hold further talks on Donbas' future.
"As for ceasing the fire, I think this is a realistic task for this year if we are engaged in negotiations and progress. But we see the story with Russian passports in Donbas that Putin has begun, economic pressure, a halt to oil shipments. They say one thing, do another thing, but think something completely different, unfortunately," he said.
Commenting on the likelihood of the return of Donbas with the use of force, the general said: "It's not a question to prepare a plan, and if we're well prepared, we can reach the border within a month. But Russia under Putin will not stop. They will start counter-actions resulting in territorial losses, etc. The question is not to temporarily put the flag either 10 km from the contact line, or even at the border, but to resolve the issue for the restoration of sovereignty. And it is not quite easy."
Romanenko did not rule out the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to Donbas.
"If negotiations begin, the UN mission can be involved. But if we positively advance in the negotiations, the issue can be resolved without the UN mission. If only they [peacekeepers] agree, they will study the issue, conduct reconnaissance, and assess the situation this year. At best, they may appear there in a year," he explained.