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The mandate for keeping peace

For the last two weeks, numerous statements have been made about the possible United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. While the idea is not new the first request was made by Ukraine in February 2015 and later sent to the UN only with the Russian President’s statement about the possibility to deploy a mission, public and media attention were caught by the issue.

October 2, 2017 - Hanna Shelest - Articles and Commentary


The current discussion is mostly around the reasoning as to why Russia suddenly agreed to the provision of peacekeepers and how Moscow can use this situation, including sending Russian soldiers to Donbas. Much less attention is paid to the substance – what mandate does such a mission need to have in order to be deemed adequate to the situation on the ground, not to lead to the conflict freezing without conflict resolution development, and to bring added value rather than overlap with already existing peace initiatives.

It is already clear that a battle within the UN is expected over every word of the resolution and every clause of the mandate. With the Russian draft resolution on the table, the German announcement requesting elaboration of their text, and Ukrainian position being presented, it looks like just a beginning of a set of tough negotiations. Despite the fact that Ukraine is currently sitting on the UN Security Council, who should take a decision about the mandate, the country has not presented its own draft resolution, as previous cases have demonstrated the easiness with which Russia utilises its veto power.

Why is the Russian proposition inappropriate?

The main function of the future mission would be to protect the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission personnel. The deployment was initially proposed only at the contact line, but it was later amended to encompass the whole territory of the uncontrolled districts of Lugansk and Donetsk regions, but without the Russian-Ukrainian border.

The first inadequacy contained within this proposition is the territory of deployment. While the OSCE SMM carries a mandate covering the whole territory of Ukraine and does not envisage controlling the contact line, one can assume that the reason for such a deployment could be a fixation of the dividing line between controlled and uncontrolled territories. Later agreement to spread a mission stationing to the whole governmentally uncontrolled territory demonstrated a “goodwill” to negotiate, attract attention of other mediators, but not to allow the resolution of one of the most crucial issues – the control of the state border in order to prevent the smuggling of weapons and combatants’ move.

Russian unwillingness to return the border under Ukrainian or international control is well known, despite the fact that this point was part of the Minsk agreements. However, if the first variant (contact line) is completely unacceptable, so the second variant can become the first phase of deployment with gradual taking control over the border during the second stage. Though, conditions for the second stage should be clearly stated, including timing, so to avoid manipulations.

Moscow’s insistence to exclude the Russian-Ukrainian border from the mandate is another controversial issue. The Russian MFA stated that there is no necessity to do this as Russia is not a party to the conflict. However, for example, the UN mission in Tajikistan (1994) had in its mandate “to monitor the implementation of the Agreement on a Temporary Ceasefire and the Cessation of Other Hostile Acts on the Tajik-Afghan Border”, while Afghanistan was not a party to the conflict. Similarly, United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) in Macedonia (1995) was established “to monitor and report any developments in the border areas which could undermine confidence and stability in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and threaten its territory”, where neighbouring countries were also not parties to the internal conflict.

Regarding mandate, illustrative is a comment of Alexander Hug, deputy head of the OSCE SMM in Ukraine, at the recent roundtable in Kyiv, where he stated that two biggest problems his people face in Donbas are mines and unexploded ordnances, and indirect fire. Given this, a logical question is how protection of the OSCE mission can be the main function of the UN mission. It is clear that OSCE monitors do not need bodyguards while demining (one of the classical peacekeeping functions) is not for the OSCE staff protection, but to make a region safer and to guarantee human security.

What mandate does Ukraine need?

Therefore, the main questions should be: what mandate does Ukraine need and what mandate will bring security to the controlled territories and not lead to the conservation of the conflict. One of the main answers will be such a mission which will not duplicate the already existing Special Monitoring Mission, will have a military component, so as not to be threatened by the combatants, and wide enough to incorporate both military and police components as well as elements for further peacebuilding.

Every peacekeeping mission is a tailor-made operation. As there are no strict rules as what to include and exclude in their functions, the Security Council member states have numerous options, and the final result is a mix of their visions and the UN Secretariat’s analysis of the situation on the ground. However, we can create a list of possible functions (based on the experience of already existing and past missions) that can have a positive influence on the current stalemate in the security sphere.

The initial mandate should serve the following purposes: investigate reports of ceasefire violations; take steps with the parties to ensure the release of all political prisoners or detainees and oversee the exchange of prisoners of war; reduce the threat of mines and unexploded ordnances, provide technical mine-action advice and coordination and demining capacity; monitor and report on the security situation at the border and other entry points to prevent the entry in Ukraine without its consent of arms or related material; support confidence-building measures; contribute, including through effective civil-military coordination and in close coordination with humanitarian actors, to a full, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance; support the offices of the OSCE.

At the later stage, the mission can also add the following functions: organise and ensure a free and fair local elections, provide technical assistance to the electoral process, identify and register qualified voters; assist in the establishment of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, as well as repatriation of former combatants and armed elements; assist with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law, public safety and public order; contribute to a secure environment for economic reconstruction and development, as well as the sustainable return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes; support the reconstruction of key infrastructure and other economic reconstruction.

This is the maximum plan, rather than a menu, from which only one or two should be chosen. For Ukraine, in the negotiation process, it is very important not only to oppose the Russian proposition but also to know exactly what it wants from the mission itself. It is also necessary to define what are the functions which could be negotiated or postponed, and what are those and which are crucial for the initial mandate. For example, demining is a very important security requirement, where the UN has sufficient experience, but considering the existence of the NATO Trust Fund for Demining Explosive Devices, this function can be negotiable. At the same time, the monitoring of the security situation at the border or gaining assistance with disarmament and demobilisation are among the key priorities to bolster existing peace initiatives on the ground.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to mention that the UN Security Council is currently going through a very initial stage of the possible resolution discussions. After potential adoption, up to six months can pass before actual forces arrive in Ukraine. By that time, the situation on the ground can change significantly, so the mandate should not only answer the immediate needs but should envisage the possible developments and aspects of the peacebuilding mission. Despite the disadvantages prevalent over the Minsk agreements, due to the acceptance of their points by both Russia and the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR, their elements (such as local elections) should also be considered while planning the UN peacekeeping mission in Ukraine.

Hanna Shelest, PhD, is the editor-in-chief of UA: Ukraine Analytica and board member of the Foreign Policy Council Ukrainian Prism. 


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