June 21, 2019

Blue Helmets in Donbas?

By Barend Ter Haar.

How often have the Minsk Agreements been violated this year? The parties involved in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine agreed in Minsk to cease firing, to withdraw heavy weapons, to remove landmines and to allow the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) of the OSCE to monitor implementation of the agreement. The agreements were adopted or confirmed at the highest level.

So how often do you think they were violated this year? The answer is: more than 200.000 times. In the first nine months of 2018 the SMM noticed more than two hundred thousand violations of the agreement. The real number of violations is probably even higher, because the freedom of movement of the SMM was very often restricted, in particular in the area outside the control of the Government of Ukraine. These violations resulted this year in at least 204 civilian casualties (39 deaths and 165 injuries), including 29 children.

How can this discrepancy between agreement at the highest level and massive violations on the ground be explained? If we assume that both the president of Ukraine and the president of the Russian Federation really believe that it is in the interest of their countries to bring the conflict to an end, do we then have to conclude that they are not able or willing to confront the people who have apolitical or economic interest in prolonging the conflict?

Whatever the reasons for the violations of the ceasefire, it is clear that an end to the conflict is in almost everybody ‘s interest. First of all for the people living in the conflict area, but also for Ukraine. Russia and Europa as a whole.

Although the prospects for a solution are currently not encouraging, it remains important to be prepared for the moment that both sides decide to implement the Minsk agreement. As a contribution to these preparations UPEACE Centre The Hague (UPH) published: BLUE HELMETS IN DONBAS? A Phased and Sequenced Scenario to Unlock the Minsk Agreements and Restore Peace in Ukraine. (Full disclosure: I am on the Board of UPH.)

The report describes how a peacekeeping operation led or mandated by the United Nations might complement the SMM to support implementation of the Minsk agreements.

The report puts much emphasis on the need to elaborate the largely unstructured Minsk agreements into a properly phased operation. In a hypothetical scenario four phases are described. In Phase Zero, that is before a UN force is deployed, a minimum permissive environment has to be created. The main objective of the following phase (Phase One) is to prevent resumption of hostilities. In Phase Two an interim civilian administration would be set up and only in Phase Three the Minsk Agreements would be fully implemented, inter alia through free elections and reassertion of Ukraine’s control over its border with Russia. The whole process would take at least two years, but possibly several years longer.

The report can be found at: http://www.upeace.nl/cp/uploads/downloadsnieuws/UPH-report-Blue-Helmets-in-Donbas-(2018).pdf


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