Rasmussen and Vershbow: the UN should test Russian sincerity for a Donbas peacekeeping force

Leading friends of Ukraine Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Alexander Vershbow are urging the UN Security Council to agree a credible peacekeeping and stabilisation force to help restore Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Leading friends of Ukraine Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Alexander Vershbow are urging the UN Security Council to agree a credible peacekeeping and stabilisation force to help restore Ukraine’s sovereignty.
President Putin this week reversed his long-standing opposition to a UN presence in eastern Ukraine, which was put forward already in 2015 by President Poroshenko.

However, former NATO Secretary General and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and former NATO Deputy Secretary General and US Ambassador Alexander Vershbow believe the conditions in the Russian proposal* would hobble a potential UN peacekeeping mission from the outset.

Rasmussen and Vershbow fear the proposal could be a diversionary tactic by Putin to buy time and legitimise Russian and proxy troops in Ukraine by handing them a UN mandate. However, with the peace process (the Minsk process) stalled, the proposal could be the biggest opportunity since the signing of the Minsk agreements to halt the bloodshed and reach a political solution to the conflict.

The pair are proposing a three-stage deployment of peacekeepers: phase one close to the contact line; phase two deeper into occupied territories; and phase three covering the entirety of the occupied territories and a presence along the international border. The force could only be deployed once heavy weaponry is withdrawn, and it should have access to inspect all convoys – including humanitarian convoys – crossing the border. To be effective, the phased deployment would have to be synchronized with the implementation of the provisions of the Minsk agreement and not limited to a six months’ period as proposed by Russia.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who now advises Ukrainian President Poroshenko on foreign policy matters, said:

“The devil is definitely in the detail. However, with a peacekeeping force now on the table, the UN Security Council should seriously engage with the proposal.

“As it stands, Moscow’s proposal would merely lend UN credibility to Russian troops dug in on the wrong side of the Ukraine-Russia border. Given Moscow’s tactics in the past, we cannot be naïve about Putin’s proposal or his timing. After all, Ukraine has sought peacekeepers since 2015, and Russia repeatedly threatened a UN veto.

“However, if this move is a bluff by Putin then the other Security Council Members should call it. With the right mandate, this could be the biggest opportunity to halt the loss of life and to break the stalemate since Minsk II was signed in 2015. Moreover, UN Security Council members should not fall in the trap of linking a peace-keeping force with the lifting of sanctions on Russia. The Russia sanctions are linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreement.”

Alexander Vershbow, who is a former US Ambassador to Russia, added:

“Russia’s proposal is inadequate to enforce a durable ceasefire. However, it opens a window for negotiation that could deliver the stability needed to move ahead with a political solution. For that the UN Security Council should agree on a resolution with clear conditions.

“The West cannot begin to consider adjusting its sanctions policy towards Russia until after satisfactory conclusion of the Minsk process. However, with the right scope and mandate, peace-keeping troops would be a forcing mechanism for Russia and Ukraine to implement Minsk.”

*Moscow insists that the ‘blue helmets’ would only protect the OSCE monitors already on the ground, and only for a mere six-month period. The mission could only operate along the current Line of Contact, instead of within the whole territory including the Ukraine-Russia territorial border where the OSCE is authorized to operate but faces constant separatist obstruction.

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