Russia not against peacekeepers in Donbas: So what's the catch?

Author : Mykyta Sinitsyn

Source : 112 Ukraine

Russia has long opposed the deployment of peacekeepers throughout the occupied territory of Donbas, but now Putin says that he is not against this. Why would Russia change its position? Of course, no one knows the exact answer, except the owner of the Kremlin himself, but you can consider possible versions
21:30, 5 March 2018

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After almost 4 years of confrontation and armed conflict in Donbas it became obvious that there was a dead end, the exit from which can be find in one – military way, but despite the hysteria about the law on the reintegration of Donbas and the gradual advancement of the Ukrainian forces through occupation of some settlements in the "gray zone" there is no talk of a large-scale offensive. As politicians say, no one will take responsibility for the bloodshed.

Although the Minsk agreements for 3 years after their conclusion have turned into paper rather than a real way of resolving the Donbas conflict, they continue to be a symbol of a peaceful, diplomatic way out of the situation.

For a long time, the entry of a peacekeeping mission under the aegis of the United Nations is considered a logical step on this path. At first time it was launched in 2015, but then the Russian Federation unequivocally stated that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council it would block this decision.

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko returned to the topic of peacekeepers only 2 years later, in the summer of 2017. This time, the Russian Federation unexpectedly supported the idea of introducing peacekeepers. Moreover, on September 5, President Vladimir Putin even announced his readiness to submit a relevant resolution to the UN Security Council.

Such an initiative, rather, resembled a way to knock out a peace initiative from Ukraine’s hands (in any case, the Russian side proposed to introduce a small peacekeeping mission to Donbas and use it to protect the OSCE monitoring mission staff). But why they should enter peacekeepers to protect the OSCE mission, if the same work could be made by the staff of the armed forces specializing in security missions?

The Ukrainian version of the deployment of peacekeepers in Donbas presumed a large mission that would be located not only at the contact line between the warring sides, but also at the Ukrainian-Russian state border.

A similar option was proclaimed during the September General Assembly of the United Nations in New York and was supported by the United States and several European countries, but was predictably criticized by the Russian Federation.

Then came the period of specific diplomacy during which Kurt Volker, the special representative of the US State Department, met Vladislav Surkov, the presidential aide, and tried to coordinate the positions of the United States, Ukraine and Russia in order to work out a unified resolution on the peacekeeping mission. However, despite several meetings, it was not possible to do this until February 28.

On this day, unexpectedly for many people, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia, "at least is not against" the deployment of peacekeepers in the entire conflict zone of eastern Ukraine. Moreover, the head of the Russian Federation stressed that he came to this conclusion after a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Related: Ceasefire in Donbas: militants attacked three times, one Ukrainian soldier injured

Despite long negotiations with the US representative Volker, who proposed the same thing, Vladimir Putin "agreed" with the proposal of the chancellor of Germany, with whom the Russian leader claims to have "a special connection and influence."

In such a situation, the consent to deploy peacekeepers throughout the entire Donbas region, including the Ukrainian-Russian border, at the request of the German Chancellor, looks like an attempt to "save face," because it turns out that this is proposal from Germany, and not from the hated US, as the Russian media and a number of its politicians and officials are representing.

But what could have prompted the Russian Federation to agree to such consent, even with an attempt to save face?

Perhaps, the pre-election presidential campaign in Russia, which is approaching its finish (on March 18, the election must take place), and a number of scandals in the international arena, in which Russia was involved, may help answer this.

So, at first it became known about the US Treasury preparation, and later the publication of the report for the Congress, which in the media was called "Kremlin report", as it included the names of 114 senior government officials, including ministers from the Russian President Vladimir Putin's team, as well as 96 oligarchs. All of them were accused of conducting "pernicious activities", for which some regular personal sanctions had to be imposed on them.

On February 9, information appeared about the fighting in the Syrian province of Deir ez Zor, between an international coalition led by the United States and the pro-government forces of Syria. The latter, according to media reports, included Russian citizens from the "Wagner" group. The defeat of the Syrian strike group, according to media reports and other sources, was complete and cost the losing side over 100 dead. Although Russia has officially denied this, but the presence of a couple dozen obituaries in social networks, indicating the names of the Russians killed in Syria on February 7 speak about something else.

Finally, the image of Russia in the international arena was broken by the history with the discovery of 389 kg of cocaine in the Russian embassy in Argentina. Although in the end, all that happened was presented as a joint special operation of law enforcement officers of both countries, the very fact of carrying such a quantity of drugs into the building clearly says that it happened not without the participation of influential forces in the diplomatic corps of the country that in any case casts a shadow on Russian diplomacy.

Perhaps in Russia they decided not to wait for what else will find the enemies by March 18, and hastened to agree with the proposal on peacekeepers at least.

However, another option is possible: this consent is part of the regular diplomatic game of Russia.

In this sense, the passage about the need to coordinate the issue of the peacekeepers deployment with the self-proclaimed "people's republics" of Donbas is interesting.

No one doubts that they will give the same answer as they are ordered in the Russian Federation, because their opinion has always coincided with the official line of the Kremlin: in 2015, the "head of the People's Republic", Alexander Zakharchenko, threatened the peacekeepers with "Armed Forces of DNR," and in the autumn of 2017, he said that that the introduction of peacekeepers is quite possible.

If "LNR" and "DNR" respond with consent, Russia will try to use this as evidence of the consent of Donbas people to see the peacekeepers, which will lead to "saving the face."

If the same "LNR" and "DNR" refuse, this will give an excuse for Russian Federation to disown from influencing the leadership of the republics and from accusing them of being nothing but the Russian occupation administrations in the Donbas. However, given that the latter is already approved at the official level in the Ukrainian legislation, such an "excuse" will not do anything.

Finally, the last option, explaining the need to coordinate the peacekeeping mission with Donbas Republics, may be that, in the opinion of the Russian Federation, such a move means at least a partial recognition of the self-proclaimed "republics".

The best for Russian diplomacy would be a variant of Ukraine's refusal to negotiate on peacekeepers with unrecognized "republics", which would allow Russians to state that the Ukrainian side does not intend to seek a peaceful solution of the Donbas issue, but wants to solve everything by force. It is precisely this thesis that the Ukrainian press, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and politicians are intensively promoting after the adoption of the law on Donbas reintegration.

In such circumstances, the Russian proposal to agree on the issue of the introduction of peacekeepers with self-proclaimed "republics" may be a cunning trap in the hope of Ukraine's refusal to deal with them, which will neutralize the peaceful initiatives of the Ukrainian side.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.

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