Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Talks NATO and Peacekeepers
13 September, 2017

It’s the latest attempt to end the war in eastern Ukraine: introducing United Nations peacekeepers. Last week, in his annual address before parliament, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stated that Ukraine is “ready for objective talks with the members of the UN Security Council,” and is “in favor of deploying a full-fledged UN peacekeeping mission throughout the [eastern] Donbas” region. The President is also expected to raise this issue in his upcoming address to the UN General Assembly later this month.    

But here’s the twist: Suddenly, Russian President Vladimir Putin is in favor of introducing the UN’s “blue helmets” to the conflict zone. With representation in the international organization’s Security Council, Russia has the ability to veto any UN peacekeeping mission — and, therefore, to also impose its own conditions on the mission. This has caused significant concern in Ukraine.

Previously, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko alleged that Russia was blocking peacekeeping missions in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Now, he sees this sudden policy shift as Putin’s way of “hijacking the initiative of our President Poroshenko”.

Hromadske spoke with Prystaiko, who is also Ukraine’s representative to NATO, about the top issues about the potential UN peacekeeping mission and the future of Ukraine’s relations with NATO. Although membership in the military alliance may not be in Ukraine’s immediate future, Prystaiko told Hromadske that Kyiv is considering practical steps to enhance cooperation with NATO — including becoming an enhanced partner of the bloc.

Starting from the very recent news on the possibility of introducing UN peacekeepers to Ukraine. The president has spoken about that.

Could you please clarify — this is a pretty new initiative, so there's been a lot of talks about it, but later the Russian President Putin came up with a different initiative, as we understand. In order to make it happen, there would have to be an agreement in the Security Council. So what is the real plan to make it happen? Not only with regards to the Russian conditions, which, as I understand, the Ukrainian government does not really accept, as it would mean talking to the separatists, agreeing with them and only deploying the troops on the separation line.

I agree with you, but you actually asked for clarification - sorry, it might take a bit of time, because President Poroshenko actually asked for peacekeeping in 2015. It's not a new initiative, at least in our time. What we asked, what we wanted to have is some sort of peacekeeping mission. We were ready for any sort of peacekeeping mission, to let us just have peace and resolve the issues we have. What Mr. Putin is trying to do, he's just hijacking the initiative of our President Poroshenko, but doing it like an elephant in a shop, because he asked exactly what you mentioned and there are another couple of things which won't be taken very well in Ukraine. I agree with you, what we ask is simple, to have a mission with a mandate over the whole region occupied, and not for the protection of the other international mission, the OSCE mission, that's just ridiculous.

We understand that the issue has been there for a while, but new things have happened. This issue was raised by the president in his address to parliament, at the meeting with the US Defense Secretary Mattis, and, as we know, the president is going to address this at the [UN] General Assembly later this month. In particular, what are the ways that Ukraine can try to achieve this? What is the argument for the Security Council, the international partners? Otherwise, I would say, Russia is there in the Security Council, so there is not much sense in discussing it. How tangible is this right now?

That's because of the hybrid nature of the conflict itself. Because everybody understands that Russia is in the Security council, and at the same time in Ukraine. But Russia is playing the role that they are not there, so they don't have many arguments that they would be able to come with, telling us that they don't want to have [this]. The best [argument] they had, just before President Putin said, was that [they] are against the Minsk [agreements] — that was the only line they had and the only line they used to take, this is not even for the international argument.

I think that everybody is very positive about the appearance of Kurt Volker, who is the US special envoy [to Ukraine], and there is some movement expected. We were told that there would be a number of phone calls this month and that it would be a busy September, so what, at this stage, are we waiting for exactly from our partners? What exactly are the things that we are trying to discuss with Russia? The Minsk agreement is a general thing, but what is the next step? What is on the agenda?

First of all, we are happy to have Kurt with us now, he replaced Victoria Nuland, who used to be the ambassador of the US to NATO, both of them, they replaced one another, so this is sort of NATO unity. I'm very happy that the ambassador to NATO, is in this company as well. What we are expecting to have with Kurt, you've probably heard already what he was saying, that he is very deeply in the coordination of the efforts - he met with Surkov recently, he was also openly talking about lethal weapons, which we didn't have before, during the previous administration, during the previous representative of the US government to the negotiations. So this gentleman is much more pushy -if I may use this word - he is very active, he is well known in Ukraine and he knows and understands Ukraine well.

Are lethal defense weapons from the US the principal goal today as something that Ukraine is expecting from the US right now?

We have many [inaudible] tracks, this is one of the tracks.

What else?

We want them to make a bit of political game as well. We want them to support the sanctions against Russia, we want them to support Ukraine, both politically and without reforming their effort in everything else.

If we talk about the sanctions, of course this is a long term goal, but are we satisfied with the status quo and that the most important thing is just keeping things as they are? Where is the proactive movement from the Ukrainian government?

The practical side, the application of the sanctions is that Russia understands that, actually, the whole of the West is against what they are doing. This is not helping us per se, it's not adding anything to our GDP or it's not helping us to develop our economy, so we have to do this part ourselves. It's not helping to protect our soldiers or our people, we have to reform our army as well.

This may sound a bit repetitive, but what I'm trying to get at is that Ukraine is fighting a war in a defensive position, but what about a proactive position at this stage? Especially at a time when a lot of people are expecting something to happen, because there are smaller things taking place - Minsk - but it looks like people want more of a breakthrough, even if it won't happen right away.

You are not repetitive, and you are not the only one. There are many schools of thought in Ukraine, one is saying that they are on our territories now, our land, we are not disputing anything with anybody, we have the full rights to, not just defend, but to clear out our land and have peace. The only problem is how to achieve it and that's what we are trying to achieve, as the government, as the president, and it is not that attractive. It's bloody, it's dirty, it's not that effective because we are doing it for the third year in row, that's why we are trying to introduce new things, like the renewed idea of peacekeeping. This will allow us to move ahead with political reformation as well.

There are a lot of people not in the political elite who are not really in support of the Minsk agreements...

Tell me about it.

So, what would be your answer? International partners often hear that Ukraine is not very much in favour of this particular solution.

Minsk is not fair, I have to tell you. I was the man who was negotiating from the very beginning, the technical part was done a long, long time ago, and even at that time we knew what it was. Unfortunately, it was the only alternative we had. So, it's not fair and it served its purpose, now we have to move further. At the same time, we are responsible partners, as we told that we were going to have it and we will hope to follow it, we will do it.

This week you met with the Secretary General of NATO Stoltenberg, so what were the results? What can people expect from that?

It's not like next month we are going to become a member of NATO - although we want to - we discussed things and the Ukrainian way to NATO, but we also discussed many practical things especially the results of the last meeting in Ukraine and the last visit from the NATO Atlantic Council to Ukraine.

So what are these next steps?

The next steps that we want to achieve, we want to have renewed cooperation in many spheres. First of all, the trust funds, the CAP (comprehensive assistance package), the next summit of NATO, the enhanced opportunity program for Ukraine to become an enhanced partner of NATO. They are very, very practical things.

/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk