February 14, 2018

UN Peacekeepers for Ukraine: Mantra in a Deadlock

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attends a U.N. Security Council meeting on peacekeeping at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 20, 2017.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attends a U.N. Security Council meeting on peacekeeping at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 20, 2017.

The topic of bringing UN peacekeeping forces to the east of Ukraine is once again making rounds these days, even though the “mantra” itself is quite old.

The report, prepared by Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at Columbia University on the order of the former Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen, states that the UN mission in Ukraine should consist of approximately 20,000 military personnel and 4,000 policemen.

However, they should be from non-NATO states.

“The operation would need a mix of some European countries, such as Sweden, countries with a track record in peacekeeping, such as Brazil, and countries that have Russia’s trust, such as Belarus”, states the author of the report.

Let us recall some simple and obvious stages of the discussion related to this issue and its main prerequisites.

The most important prerequisite is that Russia is insisting that it is not a party to the conflict, demanding that Ukraine fulfils its conditions on a unilateral basis: the recognition of political subjectivity of the so-called DPR and LPR; amending the Constitution of Ukraine, turning it into a federation; complete criminal and political amnesty to the Ukrainian collaborators of Russia and their participation in the elections for local and central authorities of Ukraine.

In fact, these are the same conditions which caused the beginning and continuation of Russian armed aggression, occupation, and annexation of the territory of Ukraine. The terms of surrender being imposed on Ukrainian authorities are unfeasible at the very least because such a decision (if it is indeed adopted for some reason) will lead to an acute internal crisis in Ukraine, which is something Russia is very well aware of.

Minsk protocols were drawn up with those political and military requirements in mind. After that, talks started about the expansion of the OSCE mission, which eventually culminated in a discussion about “UN peacekeepers”—something completely pointless from a practical point of view.

1. The practice of bringing in UN peacekeeping forces is only efficient when military operations actually stop. They have not stopped in Ukraine— there is still an ongoing low intensity conflict. Following this logic, they should be brought into the Crimea and located next to the Russian occupation troops, but all of the high European powers choose to avoid the issue of the Crimea zealously, even though the Russian aggression started in February 2014 with the occupation of the Crimea.

2. The absence of NATO states in this possible peacekeeping contingent means by default the presence of Russian servicemen or their CSTO allies, mainly Belarus. Even if Russia is not represented formally, given a very close integration of the Russian and Belarusian military and Moscow’s modus operandi, there is always a possibility that Russia will be able to deploy many operatives disguised as members of the Belarusian contingent on this operation. A hypothetical Swedish or Brazilian peacekeeper will probably not be able to distinguish a legitimate Belarusian peacekeeper from a Russian impostor, and most likely will not want to do it either. From a military perspective, it makes the parity of this entire mission rather dubious and would imperil its integrity and security.

3. Sadly, experience has shown that if conflicting parties decide to wage a war once again for some reason (as it has happened in Africa quite often), no “blue helmets” will stop them, while the soldiers under the UN flag become an easy target in armed provocations.

4. The multinational peace-keeping forces will require a very high level of controllability and coordination, which can only be ensured these days by NATO standards, and (as mentioned earlier) only in peaceful conditions. During military operations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria), the issue of controllability becomes much more complex. It means that a pro-Russian group within such contingent will be able to accomplish its tasks while hiding behind the UN mandate, as the remaining international soldiers will just play the part of political disguise.

5. The issue of who is going to pay for that is still open, since the maintenance of the UN largely depends on the financing provided by the USA, let alone the financing of the maintenance and rotation of 20,000 peacekeepers. US’s attitude towards Russia will hardly allow spending US taxpayer money on such nonsense when it can be spent on the rearmament of the Ukrainian army. Investments into the (albeit slow) development of a geopolitical ally is what the Congress of the USA will understand and accept much more willingly.

6. From the operational and tactical perspective, peacekeeping forces have perhaps already ceased playing an important part in the previous century. In the context of the current so-called proxy wars (the war in the east of Ukraine was a proxy war with the participation of Russia), there is no amount of poorly linked forces with extremely limited means of using force (the only exception was the Korean War) that would guarantee anything, since they cannot even reduce drug trafficking, arms trading, or smuggling.

7. It is clear that this mantra about peacekeepers is aimed at conjuring the dark forces of the Kremlin, since Russia was the one who started a discussion about the UN peacekeepers that should support the OSCE mission (i.e. the same tune in a new key), so that Russia could avoid sanctions at least on the part of the EU countries.

Ukraine rules out the possibility of Russia’s participation in the future UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbass. Here, perhaps, the expression “any kind of participation” should be used, but there is room for interpretation here that Russia is manipulating with. In view of the foregoing, the talks about the UN peacekeepers should only be considered an attempt by the parties in the discussion to settle into the political deadlock as comfortably as possible, because there is only one way out, and that is where the way in was.