The key issue on the expediency of introducing the UN peacekeeping contingent into the temporarily uncontrolled territories of the Luhansk and the Donetsk oblasts will be the official status of Russia in the conflict. If Ukraine officially declares Russia as the occupant and initiates the same procedure in the UN Security Council, the peacekeeping mission will be able to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine. And if the authorities do not have enough political will for this, then the UN peacekeepers will actually legalize the "LDNR". The future of the Donbass depends on Ukraine - the Ukrainian parliament and the Ukrainian president. The issue of peacekeepers is secondary, they are only an instrument.
Within "The Future of Donbass" discussion club, Research Center of Donbass Social Perspectives and OstroV news agency invited experts from research institutes to discuss the need and potential consequences of the UN peacekeeping mission in Ukraine.
Question number 1. What the UN peacekeepers can do
The UN missions can be very different - the UN Security Council issues the mandate for each mission, and this mandate requires agreement among the participants in the conflict. The only case in which such an agreement is not needed is holding operations against terrorist organizations.
If a peacekeeping mission is introduced into CDDLO, it will NOT be able to withdraw weapons, including heavy ones, from the militants. It will ensure the disengagement of parties, the cessation of hostilities, it will control the entire disputed territory and minimize violence against civilians. The key objective of such a mission will be to create opportunities for holding local elections and forming legitimate power structures. Functions of law enforcement bodies will be carried out by the local police (i.e. "people's militia", which now includes militants of illegal formations who fought against Ukraine in 2014-2015).
If the UN determines its mission as a police one, then there will be armed forces, which will also engage in the seizure of weapons and perform, in fact, police functions. The power will be temporarily transferred to the UN military commandant's office.
However, the ultimate goal will remain the same - local elections, the creation of a legitimate local government, with which it will be possible to conduct a civilized dialogue.
"The introduction of the peacekeeping mission in CDDLO within the framework of the existing Ukrainian legal boundaries legalizes the "LDNR" and directly contradicts the interests of Ukraine", - an expert who asked to remain anonymous for readers said.
"In the current legal boundaries, any peacekeepers are a threat to Ukraine, especially if they are Belarusians or Russians. We are talking about a threat not for the Donbass, but for Ukraine as a whole", - Valeriy Kravchenko, senior associate at the National Institute for Strategic Studies, says.
"Any format of the peacekeeping mission is permissible only if Ukraine officially recognized Russia as the occupant", - Igar Tyshkevich, an expert on international issues of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future, agrees.
Under the guise of peacekeepers
If Ukraine adopts such a law, the next step is to appeal to the UN Security Council and the General Assembly to recognize Russia as a party to the conflict.
"Our law will be a sufficient signal to the world that the next step is to appeal to the UN", - an expert said. According to Tyshkevich's calculations, at least 1.5 years should be spent only for diplomatic work to recognize Russia as a party to the Donbass conflict.
Colonel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Yuriy Tukalenko, who participated in peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Lebanon, says that the mandate given to peacekeepers in conflict zones is "a bureaucratic and verified document that will surely be agreed upon in Washington, Moscow and Kyiv". "From my experience, only the deployment of the mission will take up to 1 year", - Tukalenko said.
Valeriy Kravchenko talks about the context: "Russia is now actively promoting the idea of peacekeeping missions. In October-November, the issue on the peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh will be activated. They can introduce CSTO peacekeepers under the decision of the UN Security Council, but first both Azerbaijan and Armenia must agree to this. If at least one side refuses, there will not be any mission. Russia has a task to work out standard mechanisms that can then be widely applied".
If Ukraine passes the law on recognizing the Russian Federation as the occupant, then the UN and other international institutions will have to omit the Russian Federation when making formal decisions. According to Article 2 of the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, the consent of the aggressor to such a status is not required. Only the Ukrainian decision will be enough.
Another famous Ukrainian expert believes that the decision to recognize Russia as the occupant had to be taken in 2015, after local elections. And if Ukraine had started this procedure back then, now there would be some result in the UN.
"The result at the international level could be achieved by the forces of the then existing coalition of "friends of Ukraine". By the forces of Ukraine alone, this, of course, is very difficult, but in is possible together with the U.S. forces", - the expert said. He added that the number of problematic issues directly related to the recognition of Russia as a party to the conflict is enormous. Starting from the rules for holding local elections and ending with the restoration of the property rights of IDPs. The law of Ukraine on recognizing the Russian Federation as the occupant will systematically change the agenda both within Ukraine and in the international arena.
In case Ukraine initiates a decision to recognize Russia as an occupying country, Russia:
- will not be able to veto a resolution on the UN peacekeepers;
- will not be able to send its "peacekeepers" into the contingent;
- after the start of peacekeeping mission, it will gradually lose control over the militants in the "LDNR", what will allow holding more or less free elections in a few years.
In case the Ukrainian parliament CANNOT make such a decision, the "LDNR" will be recognized as a party to the conflict at the international level. This will mean that:
- Ukraine will have to sign legally binding documents with the "LDNR", which is inadmissible;
- Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky will fall under the protection of the UN, they will be able to retain their power, organize elections with a conventionally legitimate procedure;
- after the elections, Ukraine will get legal separatist republics, which it will have to recognize. This will be a complete defeat of Ukraine
Question number 2. Control over the state border
In case of introduction of the UN peacekeeping mission in CDDLO, Ukraine will not be able to quickly regain control over the state border with the Russian Federation in the Luhansk and the Donetsk oblasts – this territory will be controlled by the UN contingent.
Accordingly, all the informational and political garbage that has accumulated in the brains of people who remained there after the outbreak of war will be preserved until the next elections. And these elections will work against Ukraine.
Ukraine will not be able to take any action with regard to CDDLO, such as the forced shutdown of Russian propaganda TV channels, as they will "threaten stability in the territories".
If Ukraine decides to recognize Russia as the occupant, the UN's attention will be focused on the line of the Ukrainian-Russian border.
If Ukrainian parliament will not be able to make such a decision, the main point of the UN mission's attention will be the line of delineation between Ukraine and CDDLO.
Question number 3. Local elections
"More or less adequate local power, which will be legitimate in the eyes of all parties to the conflict, is needed for effective peacekeeping missions. Ukraine will be obliged to give its consent to local elections in CDDLO after the introduction of peacekeepers", - Tyshkevich says.
What will the local elections be like? If Russia is recognized as the occupant, the UN mission may become a police one, that is, disarm the LDNR militants. The disarmament will quickly lead to the fact that they will lose power, built on fear and murder. This will give at least a minimal chance for a more or less adequate voting of the local population. Plus, in this case, both Ukrainian parties and migrant voters will be able to take part in elections in the territory of CDDLO, what will greatly affect the results of voting.
If Russia is not out of the game – only militants, who will happily vote for themselves, will be able to take part in the elections.
"This is the worst of all possible options – these deputies will be under the protection of peacekeepers, we will not be able to influence on them. In fact, we are talking about the loss of territory and the recognition of this fact", - Tyshkevich says.
Question number 4. Rights and support of the local population. Restoration of the displaced persons' rights
While Ukraine did NOT recognize Russia as the occupant, all obligations for the payment of social benefits, pensions, etc. lie with Ukrainian budget, and paying them only to those who moved is manipulation. The same obligations are with the provision of territories with electricity, water supply and infrastructure support.
If the Russian Federation status is changed – all social payments under international law will become a problem for Russia, and Ukraine will really get the right to pay pensions only to those who moved to the controlled territory.
"Because of the status of armed hostilities as ATO, technically, Ukraine's sovereignty extends over the entire territory, what makes Ukraine legally vulnerable. There are several court decisions that oblige Ukraine to pay compensation for damaged and destroyed houses, near which the armament of the AFU was located and where it "flew in". Technically, it is possible to fill Ukrainian courts with such suits", - Tyshkevich says.
Taras Dziuba, professor of Ivan Chernyakhovsky National Defense University of Ukraine, gives such data: "(Representatives of Russian secret services) come to the temporarily uncontrolled territory with application forms about crimes, committed by Ukrainian servicemen and participants of volunteer units. All these applications are written carbon-copy and handed in to the national police by the dozen. We wanted to do the same against the other party to the conflict, but all those who say in word that he/she was beaten, robbed, deprived of cars and so on refuse to sign the documents".
Mykhailo Samus from the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies is sure that this problem will be resolved immediately after Russia's is officially recognition as the occupant.
"This problem will be resolved as soon as Ukraine recognizes these territories as occupied. Now they have a hybrid status, there are even no official prisoners of war – there are only hostages and illegally detained citizens. And these hostages are being exchanged, because there are no prisoners of war in the legal boundaries of ATO", - Samus says.
Moreover, Samus emphasizes that the law of Ukraine on the recognition of occupation brings back the issue of the Crimea to the agenda of international dialogue.
"The occupation administration will have to be responsible for all the participants of the armed formations – citizens of Ukraine, Russian guest performers, soldiers and officers of the Russian armed forces, whom Russian propaganda tries to misrepresent as "volunteers" or "deserters". If Ukraine recognizes Russia as the occupant, all these manipulations will be stopped. And that is why Putin has tried to reshape the media space in his favor, declaring on a peacekeeping mission that would "guard the OSCE observers", - Samus believes.
To show the progress
The keynote that brought all the gathered experts together was the assertion that neither the EU nor the USA is worried about the restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity, and this goal is relevant only to Ukraine itself. First of all, it is important to implement a proactive policy in order to achieve it, and to be ready to raise the stakes in this geopolitical game, that will enable a dialogue.
"The notion of "demonstrating progress" is important for Europe. Germany and France are countries of the Normandy format - they have multimillion-dollar investments in Russia. For example, the Kremlin's consent to peacekeepers is enough for them in order to change rhetoric regarding sanctions against the Russian Federation, no matter how meaningless was Putin's initiative to guard the OSCE mission. The main thing for the EU is that the Donbass should not be a zone of migration risk, so that the traffic of goods through it is safe and there are no fire", - Igar Tyshkevich says.
At the same time, the USA is the key ally of Ukraine, representative of the influential Ukrainian analytical centre is sure.
"Ukraine's foreign policy and internal political situation is not so important, since international order was violated by Russia. The U.S. Congress has made it clear that it does not agree with the current policy of Russia and does not give it some slack. … It is necessary to globally view the whole process of the Donbass reintegration, and now there is no Ukraine in the Donbass. In addition to the peacekeeping mission, no one can ensure the rights of citizens in this zone", - he said.
Maryna Vorotyntseva, Centre for research of Donbass social perspectives
The grant was provided by The Black Sea Trust, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
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