In a recent bilateral meeting, Russia has demonstrated greater openness to a UN peacekeeping mission in Ukraine’s occupied territories than in the past, according to Kurt Volker, the United States’ Special Representative for Ukrainian Negotiations.
“This time, I think there was more openness in thinking about a wider mandate for a peacekeeping force in a wider area...It seemed more constructive,” Volker said during a telephone conference with journalists.
“We’ll see if the Russian side will come back to us with a revised proposal about how they would envision it working and then we will have a look at that,” he added.
Volker met with Russian Presidential Assistant Vladislav Surkov in Dubai on January 26 to discuss efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine’s east. Previously, Russian President Vladimir Putin had proposed a UN mission only along the conflict line.
Volker emphasized that a peacekeeping mission simply could not be immediately deployed to all the territories of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region that are currently occupied by Russia-led separatists. As a result, he suggested that the mission could start at the conflict line — as Russia initially proposed — but then expand until it covered the entire territory up to the border between Ukraine and Russia.
Volker also stated that he conveyed Washington’s strong sense of disappointment and frustration to Surkov. Russia has done “absolutely nothing” to end the conflict and pull its forces from the conflict zone, he said.
He also used the meeting to discuss with the Russian side some immediate issues that could be resolved independent of a resolution to the conflict. Among these, was returning Russian officers to Joint Center for Monitoring and Coordination (JCCC).
In December 2016, Russia pulled out of the center, which involves both Ukrainian and Russian forces in implementing a ceasefire in Ukrainian government-controlled and occupied territories.
Volker said that Ukraine and Russia will need to address “what kind of documents” and “what status Russian officers will have on Ukrainian soil” in order to resolve the issues impeding the work of the JCCC.
The Special Representative also discussed the issue of prisoner exchanges with his Russian counterpart.
During his visit to Ukraine last week, Volker met with former prisoners who were freed from separatist captivity during Ukraine’s December 27 prisoner exchange. They gave him a list of names of individuals who remain imprisoned in the occupied territories. During the meeting with Surkov, he passed the names to the Russian side.
/By Matthew Kupfer