On September 20, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine made his case, again, for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ukraine’s war-torn east. The key word here is “again.” Mr. Poroshenko had suggested the use of U.N. peacekeepers in the region back in March of 2015, sending an official request to the U.N. secretary general and the president of the U.N. Security Council. But Russia has repeatedly blocked consideration of the Ukrainian proposal.
Then, on September 5, President Vladimir Putin called for the deployment of peacekeepers to protect observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who have been monitoring the war in the Donbas. Certain quarters hailed that as some sort of breakthrough – that is, before they read the fine print. Mr. Putin said the peacekeepers should operate only along the conflict line separating Ukrainian government forces and “separatists” – who everyone understands are Russian-backed, Russian-supplied, Russian-controlled. Six days later, after speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Putin said he was open to the idea of deploying lightly armed peacekeepers in other areas where OSCE inspectors operate. But there was even more to the fine print: Mr. Putin said the peacekeeping plan should be subject to approval by the “separatists.” In other words, the aggressors should OK the peacekeepers.
Ukraine’s president reacted by pointing out on September 7, in his annual address to the Verkhovna Rada, that the purpose of a proposed U.N.-mandated peacekeeping mission must be fostering peace, “not the preservation of Russia’s occupation and the legalization of the Russian military presence.” He underscored that the mission should patrol the entire conflict zone, including the border between Russia and Ukraine, across which weapons and military personnel are regularly shipped by Russia into Ukraine. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko said Russia should be barred from participating in any U.N. peacekeeping mission sent to the Donbas: “A country engaged in a conflict cannot simultaneously be a peacekeeper.” Another “matter of principle for us,” he added, is that “all foreign troops – and the only foreign troops currently stationed there are Russian – should leave before the U.N. mission is put in place.”
This week, in his address at the opening of the 72nd session of the U.N. General Assembly, President Poroshenko highlighted Ukraine’s proposal for a peacekeeping mission: “We remain convinced that a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping operation is the only viable solution to de-escalate, to protect people of Ukraine and to get us closer to a political solution. That is why the peacekeepers’ mandate should cover the entire occupied area, including the Ukrainian-Russian state border. This is a must. As long as the border is used as the main supply route for manpower and weapons to Donbas, there will be no peace in my country.”
The president explained to world leaders at the U.N.: “The key problem in Donbas is that Ukraine and Russia strive for completely different things. Ukraine wants peace and restoration of sovereignty over its territory. Russia wants control over Ukraine and undermines every effort to restore our sovereign control within Ukraine’s borders.” In fact, the Ukrainian leader said, “Russia is not a contributor to international security, but its biggest threat.”
Furthermore, “The latest hybrid ‘peacekeeping proposals’ from Moscow are yet another example of Russia’s real ambitions – to legalize its proxies and freeze the conflict forever,” President Poroshenko pointed out.
Bloomberg View (bloomberg.com) agreed, writing in an editorial: “No, Vladimir Putin has not suddenly become a man of peace. His recent overture in Ukraine should be seen for what it is – an effort to further his own interests – and treated as such. …The West should see Putin’s latest offer in Ukraine for what it is: a Trojan horse to solidify the pro-Russian rebels’ hold on eastern Ukraine.”
And, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement in which it emphasized that “Russia, as a party to the conflict, is once again attempting to present its aggression as an internal Ukrainian conflict and distort the very idea and purposes of launching a peacekeeping operation, which would not work towards achieving the principal objective of establishing sustainable peace in Donbas and restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
In short, if it is peace the world desires, it must support President Poroshenko’s request for peacekeepers for Ukraine, and it must reject President Putin’s malevolent masquerade as a peacemaker.