UN Peacekeepers in Donbass: Another Step towards War?

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February 28, 2018 – Fort Russ News –

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –

February 18th, 2018 marked the three year anniversary of the Minsk Agreements 2.0. At the same time as this occasion, Europe was busy holding the Munich Security Conference, which dedicated considerable attention to the question of deploying UN peacekeepers to Donbass.

Despite the convenient time and place offered by the Munich conference, the Normandy Four’s meeting fell through, thus further confirming that the Normandy process has hit a dead-end. As a result, only the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine, Sergey Lavrov and Pavel Klimkin, met, and the meeting was by no means a breakthrough.

Meanwhile, somewhat of a sensation was provoked by the American plan to deploy UN peacekeepers to Donbass. This plan was worked out by the team of ex-Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has been Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s advisor since 2016, while the direct author of the plan is Columbia University expert Richard Gowan.

The main provisions of this plan entail the creation of an international military contingent consisting of 20,000 troops and 4,000 police. These UN peacekeepers would be deployed throughout the territory of the Donbass People’s Republics, as well as on the border between Ukraine and Russia. The contingent’s composition would be drawn from Latin American countries, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and “neutral” European countries such as Sweden, Finland, and Austria. These forces would “quarantine” pro-Russian resistance forces and keep their weapons at safe bases. The contingent would be tasked with monitoring the Russian border and the demarcation line with the aim of helping to thwart minor skirmishes.

In other words, the Minsk Agreements are to be turned upside down. The Minsk Agreements clearly stipulate that Ukraine must first introduce deep political reforms, and only then can Kiev obtain control over the border with Russia. Under the American “peacekeeping” plan, however, the Donbass republics would be disarmed and left only with “assurances” from unfamiliar, allegedly neutral peacekeepers. Yet Sweden, for example, is the single most anti-Russian country in Northern Europe.

This plan’s author has not hidden the fact that he was inspired by what he believes to be the successful experience of peacekeeping in Eastern Slavonia and wants to repeat such in Donbass. Translated into the language of realpolitik, we are dealing not with a peacekeeping mission, but an establishment of control over Donbass by foreign military contingents. Thus, what the Ukrainian military has failed to do for several years now would be achieved by an international military force.

Gowen’s document is glaringly utopian and contradicts the realities of Donbass. It is the height of naivety to expect that Russia would tolerate a 20,000-strong  contingent of foreign troops right at its border with orders to monitor Russian activity. In reading the document, one gets the impression that the author is mentally stuck in the 20-year-old past in which Russia was weak and obedient and the US was the only superpower. What’s more, the document essentially cancels the three years of work by the Normandy Four (minus Ukraine, whose effort have been in the opposite direction) to find a way to implement the Minsk Agreements.

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However, Kiev is evidently not willing to accept this plan. The Ukrainian authorities do not intend to coordinate the deployment of peacekeepers to Donbass with the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and Kiev is categorically opposed to any participation of Belarus. In the words of Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Elena Zekal, the Belarusian side cannot participate in any peacekeeping mission in Donbass insofar as this state is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Let us remind the reader that both Minsk Agreements were convened on the initiative of the Kiev authorities amidst successful counter-offensives by the Donbass militia. The first time around, Minsk was called over the Izvarino and Ilovaysk “cauldrons”, and the second time around, due to the Debaltsevo cauldron. Now Ukraine, which has twice suffered humiliating defeat at the hands of Donbass miners and volunteers from Russia, is behaving as if Minsk 2 was Donetsk and Lugansk’s initiative, and as if Kiev won’t agree to even the most minimal “concessions.”

In my article yesterday about the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Muzhenko’s statement, I concluded that Kiev is preparing for war with Russia, but is not hedging its bets on a military victory. Realistically evaluating the military capacity of each side, Ukraine’s military leadership is betting on non-military factors for victory, i.e., conditions which would turn even a Russian route of the Ukrainian Armed Forces into a political gain for Kiev. One such variant could be an appeal to the “international community” i.e., the West, with all the possible consequences. Indeed, preparations for a military and political operations might have already begun. On February 27th, Kurt Volker wrote on Twitter: “We are working to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses so Russia can’t make further territorial gains.” As follows, Russia has been granted the status of “aggressor” not only in Kiev’s official line, but also in Western diplomacy.

Something similar to the Georgian misadventure of August 2008 is beginning to materialize. Back then, Russia also won a military victory in a five-day war, but suffered numerous political blows. In the case with Ukraine, everything would be much more difficult and pitiful for Russian interests in the country and Europe as a whole. Is this the source of Kiev’s “principledness” on the question of UN peacekeepers? Battered and broken Ukraine is behaving as if it were a winner, because it is counting on the West’s help – not so much military as political.

However, Ukraine will only lose. Only the Poroshenko regime wins – and only relatively – for without war, the regime will inevitably lose the next parliamentary and presidential elections.


Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation.  
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