June 20, 2018

Conflict in Ukraine, Volker: “Finding a solution depends on Russia”

Conflict in Ukraine, US Special Representative Volker: “Finding a solution depends on Russia”

By Guido Lanfranchi.

On Friday May 25th, United States Special Representative for Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, updated the international press on the situation in Ukraine. In the wake of his recent trip to the country, Mr. Volker expressed his solidarity with the Ukrainian people and argued for the need of Russia’s collaboration in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.

US Special Representative for Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, recently concluded a working trip to Ukraine. During the trip, Mr. Volker visited the conflict-ravaged Eastern region of Donbass, and he held talks with Ukrainian authorities in the capital, Kiev. In the wake of this visit, on May 25th, the US Special Representative updated the international press.

Commenting the situation on the ground, he stressed that the Ukrainian conflict is “still a very hot war,” as landmines explosions and repeated ceasefire violations (up to 7,000 in a single week) keep on taking their toll on the population. Since its eruption in late 2013, the Ukrainian conflict claimed the life of over 10,000 people, and displaced 1.5 million. Moreover, Mr. Volker stressed the disastrous humanitarian situation, especially in terms of health, water management, and transport infrastructure, thus calling for “urgent” measures to alleviate the population’s suffering.

Commenting on the international political dynamics underlying the conflict, Ambassador Volker stressed that “there is no doubt” about Russia’s involvement and responsibilities in the conflict (not least concerning the recurrent breaches of the ceasefire and the downing of the MH17 in 2014).

He claimed that Russia supports the rebels at the economic, political, and military levels, often disguising its support as humanitarian aid. At the same time, however, he acknowledged that Russia too is concerned by the profound humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, and that hopefully this might prompt Russia to cooperate more substantially.

Ambassador Volker reiterated that the US is ready to start dialogue, implement a peacekeeping mission under United Nations supervision, and support the full implementation of the Minsk agreement. In the last meeting with his Russian counterpart in January, Mr. Volker exposed the US proposal to the Russians, from whom the US is currently waiting for an answer. While some delays due to the recent Presidential elections in Russia were predictable, Ambassador Volker stressed that by now the US is expecting to receive an answer on the proposed package.

In the Q&A session with the journalists, Ambassador Volker touched upon a number of topics related to the conflict. Questioned about the North Stream II endeavor, Mr. Volker classified it as a “purely political project” that will likely reinforce Russia, as it would significantly reduce Ukraine’s bargaining power vis-à-vis its Eastern neighbor. Moreover, he noted that the North Stream II would further increase the European Union’s dependence on Russian energy sources, thus reversing previous efforts on supply diversification.

As for the EU’s role in the conflict, Ambassador Volker also reminded that the normalization of EU-Russia relations could be used as a bargaining chip to bring Russia to serious negotiations. Moreover, questioned about the disagreements between the United States and some EU partners on the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine, Mr. Volker stressed the defensive nature of the war fought by the Ukrainian government, and the right of any country to support such a response to an external aggression. As for the disagreements with some US allies, he noted, these disputes are markedly decreasing as compared to, for instance, the past year.

Ambassador Volker also extensively discussed the contentious issues of the buffer zone and the ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. Concerning the recent upsurge in the clashes, Mr. Volker noted that these phenomena are often associated with Russia’s troop rotation and with Spring time. However, he reiterated the US support to the Special Monitoring Mission of the OSCE in order to fully implement the ceasefire. Ambassador Volker urged all the sides, including Russia, Ukraine, and the Donbass rebels, to fully uphold the ceasefire and to refrain from territorial advancements (such as those performed by Russia), which are prohibited under the Minsk agreement. Under these conditions, the parties would then be able to focus on relevant humanitarian issues, and to kick start the much needed political transition for Ukraine.

However, he reiterated that the process is now in Russia’s hands, as a positive outcome for the Ukrainian conflict will depend on Russia’s willingness to cooperate with the international community.

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Image: Reuters

Dave Majumdar / www.nationalinterest. org

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