On my last peace talks post, we had Russia referencing some aspects of the meeting held with Ambassador Kurt Volker – US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Jan 30th, Volker gave us a fuller picture about the meeting and more detail about a new peace plan proposal.
In summary. If Russian forces withdrew from Ukraine, a United Nations peacekeeping force would move into the former occupied territories and provide security. With a “secure environment” in the region, aspects of the Minsk agreements could then be implemented and elections held, before the territory is finally handed back to Ukraine.
It’s a good proposal. Yes, due to Russians in positions of power, returning to Russia and others stepping down from office, much of the Kremlin backed, Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics political & social structure would cease to exist. However, I’m sure this and other aspects could be overcome.
Importantly, my assessment is it gives Putin a face saving way out. There is zero benefit for him holding onto territory in eastern Ukraine. It costs not a small fortune to maintain, but an eye watering kings (dictators) ransom and only gains negative world press, ever more sanctions, which all lead to a lack of desperately needed trade and foreign investment in Russia. Also, as each year passes, it becomes increasingly harder to hide his war in Ukraine.
If Putin does withdraw his forces, he can play the statesman card. If it all works well and there’s a peaceful transfer, he’ll take credit for his part played in that process. Should people vote to be governed by Ukraine, he’ll say that’s democracy and if they vote to be semi-independent, he’ll say he was right all along to have aided that desire.
Downside for Putin would be a united Ukraine. Without the costly distraction and expense of a war, Ukraine will no doubt forge ever greater ties with western countries, something which Russia is far from keen on.
So let’s hope for the best and see what Putin’s representatives come back with.
Below is Volker talking about the main points relating to the peace talks.
Please visit US Department of State press release for full transcript.
“Then we moved on to the discussion of a possible peacekeeping force. Here there is nothing that is surprising to any of you, we have this territory that is currently being occupied by Russia, and [the forces] are under Russian command and control. And the Russian side is concerned about Ukraine implementing political steps under the Minsk Agreements. The Ukrainian side is of course concerned that they can’t access the territory that’s still occupied and that there is no effective ceasefire and [inaudible]. So the Minsk Agreements say all of these things. They cover the political and the security steps, but it has, but discussions about that have really gone nowhere.
So the proposal that we put forward last summer was to have a UN-mandated peacekeeping force that would be able to provide security in the area if the Russians were to withdraw. That would create a secure environment, and in that environment it would create the conditions where Ukraine could implement political steps required by the Minsk Agreements. And then once that’s completed, you would have elections, local elections, and the territory would then be restored to Ukraine.
So we see it largely as an implementation mechanism or a transmission mechanism, getting from the current situation to one where the territory is restored to Ukrainian control and the Minsk Agreement is fully implemented.
Russia proposed something very different in September. They proposed a protection force for the monitors that operated only along the line of conflict and did not provide any real security and did not control the Ukrainian side of the Russian border and so forth. So we went over that again in our meeting in Dubai and we talked about how to get from one to the other. How do you start from the situation where we are today, where Russia is occupying and there’s no peace; to one where there is a full peacekeeping force throughout the territory that provides peace and security, and to have that also take place with Ukraine and implementing political steps as required under the Minsk Agreements.
The Russian side I think, as we talked through how to get this done, how it would actually play out, how you would implement that. I think they were more open this time, and I think we had a good conversation and we are now waiting to hear back from the Russian side with their ideas on more specifics, and we’ll see when that happens”.