The four years of conflict in Donbas between Ukraine and the Russia-backed militant forces have claimed the lives of 10,000 people and forced a further 1.5 million to flee their war-torn homes. With frustration over the conflict only rising, the question of a peacekeeping mission in the region is becoming increasingly important.
There has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on the issue. Back in September 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the idea of a peacekeeping mission only along the contact line. But this was not enough for the Ukrainian side, which expressed the need for a more comprehensive mission deployed throughout the whole region.
Then, in November of the same year, during one of several meetings between US Special Representative for Ukrainian Negotiations Kurt Volker and his Russian counterpart Vladislav Surkov, the two sides were only able to agree on 10% of the US proposal for a peacekeeping mission.
More recently, speaking at a teleconference with journalists in January 2018, Volker stated that Russia had started to show “more openness in thinking about a wider mandate for a peacekeeping force in a wider area.”
Nonetheless, several vital questions in the discussion on conflict resolution in Donbas still remain unanswered: how many international peacekeepers are needed there, how effective the mission would be and how to police the region post-conflict?
In this week’s special edition of the Sunday Show, Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk sat down with a panel of senior world experts to discuss these questions and the future of conflict resolution in Donbas.
Rupert Smith’s last appointment was Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe, 1998-2001, covering NATO’s Balkan operations, including the Kosovo bombing, and the development of the European Security and Defence Identity. Prior to that he was the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, 1996-1998; Commander UNPROFOR in Sarajevo, 1995. Smith has been a member of the Strategic Advice Panel to the UK Chief of Defence since 2009, and was the only military member of the UK National Security Forum advising the Prime Minister and the Cabinet between 2008-2010. As a retired British Army officer, he is senior international authority on defence, security and strategy.
George R.M. Anderson currently advises the UN, the World Bank and NGOs on constitutional transitions, notably relating to political devolution and to natural resources. He is a non-resident fellow at the Centre on Democracy and Diversity, Queen’s University. A long-time civil servant in the Canadian government, he held senior appointments in the Energy, Finance, Foreign Affairs and departments before becoming Deputy Minister (permanent secretary) of Intergovernmental Affairs (1996-2002) and of Natural Resources (2002-05). Former President and CEO of the Forum of Federations he worked and lectured in over 20 countries, was an expert member of the 2012-13 stand-by team of the Mediation Support Unit, United Nations.
William Jeffrey is a former senior UK civil servant with wide experience in matters of justice and national security. He served as Political Director in the Northern Ireland Office from 1998 to 2002 and was the most senior UK civil servant working on the political process in Northern Ireland. At the time of the attacks on London in July 2005, he was Security and Intelligence Coordinator. Jeffrey was Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence from 2005 until his retirement in November 2010.
“You don’t want to deploy a peacekeeping mission of any sort until there is an agreement between the parties to the conflict, at the very minimum is an agreement for a ceasefire that is credible and believable,” says Sir Rupert Smith, a retired British Army officer who was Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe during NATO operations in the Balkans.
“After the atrocities of Srebrenica, the peacekeepers were mandated and authorized to use a lot more force. By that time, they had the forces available and they broke the siege at Sarajevo.” Illustration: Tasha Shwarz
Unfortunately, reaching an agreement between all the parties involved is one of the main sticking points in the discussions on peacekeeping in Donbas.
Russia’s refusal to compromise is a cause for concern in this regard, according to the experts.
Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe (1998-2001), Commander UNPROFOR in Sarajevo (1995)
“The complicating factor here is clearly that involvement of the Russian Federation in this issue as well,” says George Anderson, a former deputy minister in the Canadian government who currently advises the UN, the World Bank, and NGOs on constitutional transitions. “It is an issue that goes beyond those who are causing terrorism and other acts of that sort in the eastern part of the country.”
Sir William Jeffrey, a former British civil servant, whose experience in conflict resolution stems from his work during the conflict on Northern Ireland, adds that Russia’s negotiations with the US could also be problematic for Ukraine.
“I would say there’s a risk – there’s a deal cooked up between the Americans and the Russians where the Ukrainian government has the part of some larger political understanding that’s trying to use peacekeeping to solve a problem without really addressing the underlying issues.”
The experts also highlight the fact that a peacekeeping operation that fails to take into account these underlying political issues could lead to a frozen conflict.
“You’ve got politicians here, you’ve got politicians in Russia, they both want to be able to declare a victory in terms of the resolution of this... So it’s going to require courage by politicians and understanding by the public so that things – there are going to have to be some difficult changes if the issue is to be resolved,” Anderson states.
The size and nature of the peacekeeping force deployed to the area is another debated topic in discussions on conflict resolution in Donbas. Smith outlines some of the important factors that need to be considered in determining this:
“You will need to work out the actual tasks to be carried out, how many places to collect weapons, what border crossing points to monitor etc. That would then produce you a number of men and communications and so on. You would need some form of a capacity to react – if only in self-defense.”
“Obviously there will be some costs for reconstruction [of Donbas’ ruined parts]. But the bigger you can get a political agreement, the less you need to spend on military and peacekeeping arrangements.” Illustration: Tasha Shwarz
This is also another reason ceasefire agreements need to be in place before a peacekeeping force is deployed. Smith recalls his experience in the Bosnian war in the early nineties, when the Security Council deployed the United Nations Protection Force into the conflict without a ceasefire agreement. The peacekeeping forces were slowly drawn into the conflict.
“I called it being a hostage in a shield – you were a hostage to one or other parties in the negotiation of the confrontation and you were a shield in the conflict when one party wanted to attack another one. And you do not want to get into that position ever again,” Smith explains.
“Before the reforms and the creation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the police force in this country had been one in which the majority community were overwhelmingly represented and the smaller proportion of the community were not represented at all.“ Illustration: Tasha Shwarz
Anderson further highlights the need for a comprehensive agreement prior to the deployment of a peacekeeping force: “Just having a minimal agreement and getting some peacekeepers in raises all kinds of problems. The bigger the agreement, the smaller your force you need in some sense because you’ve started to resolve the underlying political issues.”
For peace to truly be achieved in Donbas, weapons need to be removed from the region – in particular, from the militant forces. According to Jeffrey, disarmament could take a number of years to achieve, especially when dealing with terrorist forces.
Jeffrey draws parallels in his work dealing with the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland:
“International experience shows that the ceasefire agreement is the starting point, which allows to determine how to address the question of weapons.” Illustration: Tasha Shwarz
“In Northern Ireland, it was left on the basis that all the parties to the agreement would apply their best endeavours to enabling the decommissioning of weapons in two years. But that was not an understanding that bound the terrorist groups themselves, and it therefore took much longer,” Jeffrey explains, adding that only after 10 years of negotiation did the IRA cease operation in the area.
Senior Mediation Expert on Constitutional Transition, UN Mediation Support Unit (2012-2013)
In the meantime, however, security needs to be maintained in the regions transitioning out of conflict, especially if there are still weapons within the region. This raises the issue of policing in the post-conflict space.
“All of our countries that we’re facing a terrorist threat that the police need to be capable of dealing with and that’s a style of policing that needs to be fitted together with a more community focused approach to the other work of the police,” Jeffrey states.
If a successful peacekeeping mission were to be deployed in Donbas, one of the next steps Ukraine would have to consider is amnesty and dealing with the supporters of the occupation in the East.
Ukraine’s rocky relationship with the Russian Federation will be an important aspect of the amnesty agreements in Donbas. Jeffrey describes Russia as the “elephant in the room,” adding that “it won’t be resolved until there is a clearer understanding between the two countries involved, but I would suggest that if that can be achieved there will then still need to be a kind of internal process of political settlement in these parts of the country.”
However, speaking from experience, the experts say that an amnesty may not be the best solution.
This was the case in Northern Ireland. Although there were provisions for reduced prison sentences, “the crimes committed during the period of Troubles were automatically not pursued,” Smith says, adding that, “these days it would be very difficult because international conventions around the treatment of victims mean that a lot of care needs to be taken in treating offenses committed against victims.”
Anderson and Jeffrey agree, stating a “turning the page” approach may be more suitable for Ukraine than a complete amnesty in restoring peace in the Ukraine’s eastern territories.
“For Ukraine, the experience of those countries that did not leave space for amnesty for people who committed crimes during conflicts is more relevant.” Illustration: Tasha Shwarz
“Somehow, difficult as it is for societies that have been torn apart by these actions, people need to move on and get into the future,” Jeffrey says.
Political Director, Northern Ireland Office (1998-2002)
Despite having outlined some of the potential pitfalls and complications that could occur in the conflict resolution process, the experts also looked as some of the reasons to remain positive about the future of Donbas.
Sir Jeffrey believes that the “relatively small” population in the occupied territories is one aspect that could ease the transition.
“I don’t think whatever settlement emerges there, whether it’s constitutional or otherwise, will upset the basic functioning of government in Ukraine and, over time, I suspect that whatever it is you’ll be able to adapt to,” Sir Jeffrey points out.
He also believes the high human cost suffered on both sides of the conflict is a motivating factor behind finding a suitable and effective resolution to the conflict.
“I think the costs to the Russians, the costs to the Ukrainians of this conflict are very high. So if the costs are quite high that creates pressures to address the problem.”
Anderson however, sees the Ukrainian population as a source of optimism.
“I’ve been struck by the positive spirit of the people I’ve met in these two visits and there’s encouragement to be taken from that,” he told Hromadske.
/By Sofia Fedeczko