A Peacekeeping Mission for Ukraine

by Gordon M. Hahn
The Minsk II peace process is in stagnation. Europe’s and Ukraine’s mounting internal problems and Russia’s preoccupation with resolution of Syria’s civil war and its own presidential elections have left the Minsk II lacking vigor. The war is a drag on Ukraine’s failing democratization, state-building, civic nation-building, and corruption fighting efforts. In Donbass, internal fighting between criminal elements is destabilizing the breakaway ‘regimes’, posing the risk of a return to war to buttress solidarity. The war crisis in Donbass requires the vigorous application of American diplomacy. The Trump administration should push the United Nations and the Minsk II parties to undertake a peacekeeping operation to help the OSCE monitor compliance with Minsk and achieve a full ceasefire.
American Abdication and Negligence
Washington is mired in internal conflict – a war of dueling investigations and deepening political polarization and violence – that included partisan warfare as well as intra-governmental tensions such as those between President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As a result, there has been confused and mixed U.S. messaging to Kiev, Donbass, Moscow and Europe. To prevent the slow-burning Donbass conflict from becoming a decades-long frozen conflict that risks escalation to full-fledged civil war again and even inter-state war involving the world’s foremost nuclear powers, Washington must support a UN peacekeeping operation and pursue its installation in cooperation with all sides involved directly or indirectly in the Donbass conflict and its making.
The chaos and infighting in Washington is reflected in the mixed messages emanating therefrom. No concerted foreign policy can be conducted when the State Department is, mildly speaking, at odds with the White House. Administration cuts of State staff and State Department antagonism towards the new president have escalated to personal antagonism between Trump and Tillerson. This is occurring on a background of multiple international crises: nuclear saber-rattling with North Korea, the meltdown of the Iran nuclear agreement, a ‘new cold war’, and tensions with China in the South China Sea. The Donald Trump administration is simultaneously flirting with sending lethal weaponry to Kiev while it deploys a pro-Ukrainian special envoy for the Ukraine crisis in the person of a former US NATO ambassador and accuses Kiev of interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Washington consensus meanwhile continues to gravely exaggerate whenever it can the soft authoritarian and more forward-leaning nature of Russian domestic and foreign politics, respectively.  Indicatively, one DC-based, NATO-tied Russia observer claimed: “Two days after Russia told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson it was willing to talk about Ukraine, Moscow unilaterally and illegally closed the Kerch Strait, ostensibly for technical reasons. So much for a willingness to talk. Russia is not only threatening Ukraine again, it also is displaying contempt for President Donald Trump personally. Moscow’s targeting of Ukraine and its economy are obvious. The Kerch Strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. Its closure cuts off the two strategically important Ukrainian port cities of Mariupol and Berdiansk, along the northern shore of the Azov Sea, which are major export centers to the West for Ukrainian steel, from the Black Sea. Moscow is signaling that it can strike at Ukraine’s society, politics, and economy whenever it likes. Closing the strait is also a strike at Washington; if Moscow wanted to talk seriously about Ukraine with Trump, this action would not have occurred” (www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/how-trump-can-get-putin-s-attention#.Wa3hYP3nVKw.facebook). What the writer conveniently leaves out is that Kiev has instituted blockades against both Crimea and Donbass for years, since the crisis exploded in 2014. Another DC-tied writer noted that while “Kremlin tone changes but substance of Kremlin’s Ukraine policy never changes” (www.ponarseurasia.org/perspectives/ukraine-poroshenko-era-ebook2017). Many are calling on Washington and Brussels to provide lethal offensive weapons to Kiev, which would deepen the crisis and escalating the conflict – reckless policy (www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2017-10-11/trouble-arming-ukraine?cid=nlc-fa_fatoday-20171011).
In reality, the day after this claim was made Putin stated at the 5 September 2017 BRICS summit in China that he was open to the idea of a UN peacekeeping operation but one with a limited mandate.* Ukraine’s foreign ministry responded the same day with some openness to Putin’s statement (https://delo.ua/ukraine/v-mid-ukrainy-otreagirovali-na-zajavlenie-putina-o-mirotvorchesk-334245/). Six days later, the Kremlin reported that Putin had discussed during a telephone call with German Prime Minister Angela Merkel a possible UN mission to protect OSCE ceasefire monitors in and around Donbass not just at the ceasefire demarcation line (http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55593#sel=4:1:yBh,5:41:e7e). Putin’s September statements mark a shift from the Kremlin’s previous position on UN peacekeepers, which it had been rejecting out of hand.
The fact is that resolution of the Ukrainian war and crisis is unattainable without US involvement, first of all because any agreements concluded without the US will not be fully trusted either by Moscow or Kiev, and only the latter two can contain their radical elements: Russian ultra-nationalists in Donbass and Ukrainian ultra-nationalists especially in western Ukraine and in the volunteer battalions at the Donbass front. As I noted two years ago, resolution will require the US to get involved in the Ukraine crisis’s resolution and abandon its passive/destructive approach the Obama Administration took. President Donald Trump’s appointment of a special envoy is a good step, but the appointee is inappropriate, having been the US ambassador to NATO, an organization that contributed perhaps the most to the making of the Ukrainian crisis. At the same time, Putin’s proposal for a UN mandate to protect OSCE monitors in Donbass is a good first step, but a more robust UN peacekeeping mission and other, supporting measures are needed to just to solidify the ceasefire and fully resolve the Ukrainian crisis and civil war.
Peacekeeping Propositions

The first three points in the Minsk II agreement deal with the ceasefire and the withdrawal of Kiev and Donbass forces from the line of contact. Both the ceasefire and withdrawal were implemented on a limited basis nearly two years. However, both sides have occasionally broken the ceasefire with small-scale fighting. Although the original full ceasefire has largely held and withdrawal of weapons was implemented by both sides, radicals on both sides of the ceasefire line have succeeded several times in escalating tot-for-tat firing that has risked reigniting the war and cost tens if not hundreds of additional lives since 2015.

Two years ago I proposed that Kiev engage in direct talks with the Donbass rebels in order to better ‘Ukrainize’ and de-geopoliticize’ the conflict and that the Minsk 2 process be replaced or at least complimented by a UN/OSCE peacekeeping operation: “A key weak point in the agreement [Minsk 2] is the lack of a clause on peacekeeping troops. It seems it would be more effective to introduce UN peacekeeping forces on the ground in addition to OSCE monitors once the ceasefire is established and the withdrawal of heavy weapons is complete. They should be deployed both at the Donbass-Russian border and along the line of demarcation for the de-militarized zone designated in the agreement” (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/13/minsk-2-0-the-road-to-minsk-3-0-or-a-bigger-war/).

Almost all other US experts on Russia are promoting escalation of the Donbass conflict by supporting providing Kiev with lethal weapons and claiming Russia opposes resolution of the conflict.

Several major Russian international affairs experts have pursued ways to an exit from the crisis.Andrei Kortunov of Moscow’s Russian International Affairs Council has proposed, a robust peacekeeping operation should be undertaken with a “phased approach” by gradually expanding and deepening the peacekeeping operation’s mandate. Alexei Arbatov, leader of IMEMO’s Center for International Security also recently called for “a full-scale peacekeeping operation authorized by the U.N. Security Council” (http://carnegie.ru/commentary/73084).

Their work and my original proposal can be elaborated upon to suggest several key elements of a peacekeeping operation for Ukraine under joint UN and OSCE auspices and further international and local measures to support that mission and ultimate resolution of the Ukrainian crisis:

— a robust multidimensional peacekeeping mandate that gradually deepens expands functionally and territorially.

— sufficient firepower for UN troops to fulfill this robust mandate and protect themselves and the OSCE monitors from the heavy arms possessed by both sides. 

— a force and monitoring-managerial composition that secures impartiality; that is, composition derived from any state with even indirect involvement in the conflict — Russia, the US and EU — or having allied relations with the US, EU, or Russia.

— direct talks between Kiev’s Maidan regime and the Donbass rebel leaders

— Donbass diaspora participation in all Donbass elections conducted under any future agreements

— lift of Kiev’s economic blockade of Donbass

— and the formation of a consortium to finance Donbass’s reconstruction and economic development.

First, the UN peacekeeping mission in Ukraine must have a robust, broad, multidimensional ‘second-generation’ mandate with the capacity to institute and hold a full ceasefire, oversee and enforce withdrawal of all heavy weaponry a long distance from the front demarcation line as established in Minsk I and II, and prevent renewal of both large-scale or guerilla warfare. Although the peacekeepers could move into the Donbass or Ukrainian interior away from the demarcated frontline to carry out missions necessary under the mandate, its overriding concern should be enforcing the sanctity of the demarcation line and demilitarized zone between Kiev’s and Donbass’s armies in line with the Cyprus 1974 model rather than the Kosova 1999 model, as Arbatov suggests. 

Regarding the gradual expansion of the UN Donbass mission mandate’s gradual, “phased” expansion, Kortunov notes:

If we think of the UN’s involvement as a process broken down into several stages, then space opens up for a potential compromise. The resolution of the priority task to guarantee a mutual ceasefire and the withdrawal of military equipment would make it possible to raise the issue of the gradual expansion of the peacekeepers’ mandate and the territorial coverage of peacekeeping operation in line with that mandate. In the long term, the best solution would be to expand the peacekeeping operation to cover the entire DPR and LPR territory, with the understanding that this expansion would run in parallel with the implementation of the entire package of Minsk Agreements. …

“The international peacekeepers could contribute to the implementation of the Minsk II Agreements in their entirety, rather than just the first two or three points. All the more so because the peacekeeping operation would involve various functions depending on the territory and the stage of the operation — from monitoring compliance with the ceasefire regime and mine clearing to providing humanitarian aid and helping organize and hold local elections. This type of phased approach based on the situation in the respective territories would help the sides to avoid a clear, rigid and long-term administrative distinction being made between the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics on the one hand, and the rest of Ukraine on the other — a distinction that Kiev fears could be used as a mechanism for “freezing” the conflict, and with good reason.” (http://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/the-price-of-peace-the-parameters-of-a-possible-compromise-in-donbass/).

It would be desirable in order not to disadvantage either side to deploy the force along the ceasefire line and the Ukrainian-Russian border simultaneously. Then the peacekeeping troops could expand internally across Donbass and in response to events and any mandated functions such as mine-clearing. However, the timetable for implementing the mission in Ukraine will be dictated by the timetable for implementing Minsk II’s various points in full. Since the ceasefire is the most fundamental part of the agreement that makes possible implementation of the rest and will do the most to save lives, deployment along the ceasefire and force separation line first. Therefore, particular attention needs to be paid to the most rapid deployment along the Ukrainian-Russian border. 

Second, mission’s considerably broad mandate of instituting a full ceasefire, overseeing and enforcing the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry, and preventing renewal of fighting must be supported by firepower sufficient for UN troops to protect themselves and the OSCE monitors from the heavy arms possessed by both sides. Otherwise, the mission is likely to be undermined and ultimately defeated by radical both on the Donbass side, including local and foreign Russian nationalists and communists, and on Kiev Maidan regime’s side in the form of the ultra-nationalist- and neofascist-manned volunteer battalions like Azov and Aidar and independent militias like the neofascist Right Sector’s ‘Volunteer Corp of Ukraine. Therefore, as Arbatov suggests, the peacekeepers must be supplied with armored vehicles, artillery, aviation, and drones, facilitating not just self-defense but also suppression of shooting from either side and interdiction of other ceasefire violations (transport of arms, weapons production, illegal sale of weapons and contraband), as will be detailed by the UN mandate.

Third, in terms of the mission forces” composition, they ought not take personnel from any country bordering the conflict zone, per informal UN rules, as Kortunov notes, and should not take any command or troop personnel from the states directly or indirectly involved in the crisis or its making. This means excluding US, Ukrainian, Russian, NATO member-country, or EU forces. As Arbatov proposes, a UN Security Council or OSCE, not a NATO or EU “special staff’ must command the mission. A monitoring center could be established to supervise implementation of the peacekeeping operation as well as to monitor violations. The two functions must remain separate. The monitoring operation could include intelligence and information channels, involving all parties to the conflict, direct or indirect, including Russia and be composed of reprsentatives from Kiev and Donbass, the West and Russia, the UN and/or OSCE.   

Another Arbatov proposal — including Russian peacekeepers in the UN mission — is fraught with peril. If insisted upon by Moscow, it would most surely scuttle any proposed peacekeeping mission. Kiev would simply be unable and unwilling to accept this and indicated so immediately after Putin expressed his openness to a UN mission for Donbass (https://delo.ua/ukraine/v-mid-ukrainy-otreagirovali-na-zajavlenie-putina-o-mirotvorchesk-334245/). For Kiev, a fundamental and relatively early outcome of any peacekeeping mission must a verifiable absence of any Russian troops that may be in Ukraine in addition to the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry by both sides from the front demarcation line. There is no point for Kiev in institutionalizing the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory. That would be against its national security interest and likely provoke a split within Ukraine’s oligarchic-ultranationalist regime with ultranationalists in the corridors of power and on the streets staging an ultranationalist revolution against the mixed (oligarchic-ultranationalist) and hybrid (democratic/authoritarian) Maidan regime. An alternative might have been the inclusion of troops from an Orthodox and/or Slavic state with good relations with both Moscow and Kiev — for example, Belarus, Serbia and/or Montenegro — but Belarus borders Ukraine and NATO expansion to the latter two countries preclude such an option. Nor should countries with close ties to stakeholders in the conflict be involved. This would exclude again all NATO, CIS, EEU, SCO member-sates, almost all EU member-sates, and Russian ally, China. Some prospective command and troop contributors could be Switzerland, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and Egypt; all of which are neutral states or have equidistant relations from Kiev, Moscow, Washington and Brussels.

In addition to the three mission-specific proposals mentioned above, there are three additional requirements that would support the mission’s success.

Fourth, Washington, Brussels and Moscow must convince Kiev to open a direct channel even direct discussions with the leaders of the DNR and LNR early in the pre-deployment phase. According to the fourth point of the 12 February 2015 Minsk 2 accord, Kiev is required to engage the Donbass rebels in “a dialogue” or direct talks. Kiev has never fulfilled this pivotal step–the first in the agreement with a specific deadline. The dialogue was supposed to begin the day after the ceasefire was consolidated, which occurred back in March 2014, and was to address “the modalities of the local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine ‘On the temporary order of local government in certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions,’ as well as with respect to the future operation of these areas on the basis of the Law.” A full year after the agreement and nearly a full year since the ceasefire and subsequent troop pullback, Kiev has refused to engage a dialogue with the Donbass rebel regions’ representatives: (1) either on the modalities related to conducting elections in the Donbass, (2) or on the Ukrainian law to be adopted according to Minsk-2 ‘On the temporary order of local government in certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions,’ or (3) ‘with respect to the future operation of these areas on the basis of the Law,’ or, for that matter, (4) on any other subject related to the crisis. Faced with a challenge similar to that faced by Moscow in Chechnya in autumn 1991, Kiev started its ‘anti-terrorist’ operation (ATO) just a couple of weeks after the rebels seized power in Donbass; Moscow negotiated on and off with ultra-nationalist Chechen rebels for three years, only beginning its anti-terrorist operation in December 1994, prior to which the Chechens had engaged in attacks on innocent civilians. Kiev’s ‘ATO was deliberately mislabeled for strategic communications/propaganda purposes, since the Donbass rebels had not killed any civilians, no less for political reasons, nor anyone prior to Kiev’s ATO talk. In fact, it is the Maidan regime and its ultra-nationalist and neofascist allies who would do so first and on a much larger scale than the rebels. Direct talks can break the ice of mistrust and hatred that now exists between Donbass, on the one hand, and Kiev and western Galician Ukraine, on the other hand.

Fifth, all those who fled the Donbass regions’ Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, regardless of where they fled to — Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Transdniestr, the EU or elsewhere — must be given equal ease of opportunity to participate in any elections held in the region under any future agreements.

Sixth, Kiev must be enticed to lift the economic blockade of Donbass and restore free movement across the ceasefire line and banking operations for pension and other social welfare payments. This is actually to both Moscow’s and Kiev’s benefit as it lifts part of Moscow’s financial burden in supporting the populations of the DNR and LNR and it will help return the Donbass separatist areas to Kiev’s sovereign jurisdiction and wean them off their growing dependence on Moscow. This will also be a boon to trust-building between Donbass and Kiev and to the former’s post-war reconstruction. 

Seventh, to encourage Kiev, the international community — especially Russia and the West — should lighten the financial burden of post-war reconstruction for Kiev. In order to support the mission, Kortunov’s proposal to create an international consortium of both public and private donors and investors is in order, as is the coordination of their efforts to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, finance post-war reconstruction and development, and drain the swamp of potential separatists and criminal groups operating in the region. The consortium seed funds should be provided in equal proportion by the US, EU and Russia — the outside parties responsible for the Ukrainian crisis and civil war.

Finally, to further support the mission’s ultimate success, the geopolitical conflict that helped fuel the domestic divide in Ukraine must be resolved to ensure there is no repeat of this torn country being ripped apart by the West and Russia. To achieve this, NATO should renounce its plans to bring Ukraine into the alliance, Ukraine should be encouraged to amend its constitutional to include a neutrality clause, and Moscow, Brussels and Kiev should sign a neutrality agreement. This will require negotiations take place on the geostrategic tier between Moscow and the West over the issues that have driven the Ukrainian conflict while Minsk talks continue to deal with issues on the ground to end the conflict and increasingly involve direct discussions between Kiev, its representatives for Donbass, and the Donbass rebels or their direct representatives. The geostrategic talks should address reducing NATO-Russian tensions and contestation and agreement between the Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union, on the one hand, and Ukraine and the European Union, on the other hand, to reduce economic tensions, trade wars, and trade imbalances between east and west, given Ukraine’s likely EU membership, given Kiev’s signing of the EU association agreement last year. The EU and Russia should negotiate the design and implementation of the proposed free trade space from Lisbon to Vladivostok suggested by Chancellor Merkel.

There should be no expectation that a full-fledged, multidimensional UN peacekeeping mission in Ukraine will resolve matters quickly; hence the need for ongoing two-tier talks, including direct Kiev-Donbass discussions. Such missions last years, even decades and the road from first agreement to undertake such a mission and first deployments of peacekeeping troops takes nearly a year. In other words, if the hour is already late to head-off a larger Ukrainian war and escalating ‘new cold war’, then Washington, Moscow, Brussels and Kiev must act now.

_______________________________________

*Putin said: “В этом контексте наличие миротворцев ООН, даже, можно сказать, не миротворцев, а тех людей, которые обеспечивают безопасность миссии ОБСЕ, считаю вполне уместным… Но, разумеется, речь может идти только о функции обеспечения безопасности сотрудников ОБСЕ. Это первое. Второе. Эти силы должны находиться в этой связи на линии разграничения и ни на каких других территориях. Третье. Решение этого вопроса должно состояться не иначе как после разведения сторон и отвода тяжелой техники. И это не может быть решено без прямого контакта с представителями самопровозглашенных республик – ДНР и ЛНР.”

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About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org; an expert analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com; and an analyst at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago), www.geostrategicforecasting.com.

Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War. Previously, and three well-received published books: Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002);  Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007); and The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media and has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony to the U.S. government.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kennan Institute in Washington DC as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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About Gordon M. Hahn