Game of "Peacekeepers" in Donbas: What is Russia up to?
Ukraine’s current foreign policy line corresponds to the one laid down in the country’s National Security Strategy of 2012. And although a new strategy was adopted in 2015, Kyiv keeps pursuing that line. It is about choosing political and diplomatic methods and appealing to guarantees provided by the Budapest memorandum as key means to repel external aggression. That is, Ukraine prefers exclusively peaceful political and diplomatic tools to refute the aggression, which Kyiv, by the way, is yet to formally recognize. This is what Ukraine has been attempting to implement: deprioritizing military defense in the event of aggression, and settlement of the conflict with Russia (which Kyiv hasn’t branded as war, either), in favor of peaceful diplomatic means.
Now Ukraine has moved to passive defense, trying to fulfill the security part of the Minsk agreements.
As a result, Kyiv has practically admitted that the conflict is of internal nature. And, accordingly, the methods of its settlement are adequate to any internal conflict. It is for such a model that the "Minsk process" and the Normandy format were crafted.
Now Ukraine has moved to passive defense, trying to fulfill the security part of the Minsk agreements. Thus, Ukraine believes that a ceasefire has been introduced; there is no front line but a line of delimitation. And it is logical that Ukraine is appealing to the international community to introduce peacekeepers because Kyiv believes there are all conditions for a peacekeeping mission: there is no war, there are no ongoing hostilities, there is "hybrid peace", there is a line of demarcation, there is a security zone, and heavy weapons have been withdrawn Similarly, Ukraine is appealing to international organizations from the position that there is an internal conflict in Ukraine, not a war with Russia. Therefore, the idea of introducing a peacekeeping mission looks logical.
These are the plans, and President Poroshenko has spoken about this many times. However, he previously called for an OSCE armed mission (although the OSCE does not have the appropriate power to arm its observers and there is no mandate because such mandate is given only by the United Nations). Under the existing mandate, the OSCE is only authorized for a monitoring mission. Meanwhile, Kyiv is trying to "load" the OSCE with powers almost equal to those of the Armed Forces of Ukraine – that’s as if they have to liberate the Ukrainian territory, regain control over the border, etc. Thus, Ukraine would be replacing the functions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with those of the OSCE mission. Ukraine seems to be acting in line with the plan for a peaceful settlement, but this is only possible if there is an internal conflict, when the parties adhere to a ceasefire, etc. But all of it is a total illusion, because in reality there is no truce, there is no ceasefire, and the fighting continues.
Besides, the question arises, who the party to the conflict is. After all, in order to introduce a peacekeeping mission, it is necessary to obtain a mandate. Where can we get a mandate? From the UN? They will never grant such a mandate, even if Russia wants it! That’s because the condition for granting a mandate is a complete ceasefire and creation of a security zone, because no one will dare deploy peacekeepers in the zone where hostilities are raging. After all, all that peacekeepers have is a blue helmet and some body armor. So, no country will allocate their contingent for a peacekeeping mission. Really, what’s the point? Just to get them all killed in another shelling?
Even if Russia gives a thumbs up to introducing a peacekeeping mission, the UN will not give such a mandate. Because the key condition, mentioned above, has not been met. There also must be an absolutely neutral attitude of peacekeeping troops toward both parties to the conflict. Similarly, these troops must be respected by both warring parties. And, most importantly, there must be an agreement of both parties on the introduction of the peacekeeping forces. If Russia agrees, it is a warring party then. Hence, there must be no Russians in such peacekeeping forces. And neither there must be any representatives of Russia’s military allies. Same for the Ukrainian party, by the way.
The CIS only legitimises Russian armed forces in Donbas, as it once has – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
There is another question arising: does Russia agree to this as a member of the UN Security Council or as a warring party? Moscow could agree as a member of the UN Security Council, but other UN member states will not deploy their peacekeeping contingents to where the shooting continues. In this case, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) will appeal to the UN to be given a UN mandate for the entire CIS, and then "Russian peacekeeping troops" will be deployed in Donbas.
That is, the reality is that the peacekeeping mandate can now only be provided by the CIS. And what are those peacekeeping forces deployed by the CIS? It’s Russian armed forces sporting blue helmets. That is, the CIS only legitimises Russian armed forces in Donbas, as it once has – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It should be recalled that the UN did not grant a mandate for the introduction of peacekeepers into Abkhazia in 1992, no matter how hard the then-president of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze tried to achieve this. The UN refused because necessary requirements had not been met. Then Russia de facto deployed in Abkhazia its own troops, who simply put on blue helmets, took positions along the Inguri (administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia) and took up the role of Abkhazia’s armed forces and border guards. The UN has given a mandate to this operation, thus legitimizing the whole thing.
I believe this is exactly the strategy Russia pursues today with the idea of the introduction of peacekeepers to Donbas. However, as a warring party, Ukraine can mix up Russia’s cards. Kyiv may simply refuse the introduction of peacekeepers because this peacekeeping mission will have to be carried out on its territory.
Moreover, the Ukrainian side should only allow deployment of peacekeeping forces for a one-year period. That is, in a year, consent should be given once again, and so on.
That is, Ukraine has the right not to accept peacekeeping forces on its territory. After all, one of the main conditions is the consent of both parties. It is also necessary that the other party agrees to this. But since the conflict is in Ukraine’s territory, Ukraine has an advantage in this issue.
If Ukraine also submits to the UN its own draft resolution on peacekeepers, as Russia has already done, it can be put to the vote, but it might as well not pass. At the same time, the Russian version could be adopted because Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a much bigger weight.
But, again, it’s unclear whether the main condition, the ceasefire, will be fulfilled... Of course, Russia can at the blink of an eye order its troops and proxies to bring all shooting to a complete halt. But this will only be done when Moscow clearly benefits from such move; that is, when it comes to the CIS peacekeeping mission.
Hryhoriy Perepelytsia is a Professor at the Kyiv National University, Doctor of Political Sciences, an expert on international politics