Can UN Peacekeepers Bring Ukraine Peace?


Call by Ukraine President Poroshenko for UN Peacekeepers to monitor the new ceasefire in the East testifies to his commitment, his desperation, or both. More critically, both France President Hollande and Russia President Putin can deliver such UN-mandated peacekeepers, that is if they are serious about consolidating and insuring the observance of the ceasefire which they also negotiated. Both countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council which would have to adopt a resolution to deploy such force, and France has traditionally controlled the post of UN Peacekeeping Head.

Why would Poroshenko want UN to effectively divide his country?

UN-mandated Peacekeepers have several negative implications for the Ukraine government, as well as the positive of securing at least a temporary halt to the fighting. On the negative side, the conflict becomes frozen in place with Ukraine effectively divided and potentially partitioned. Such UN mandate also would further internationalize the presumably internal conflict providing the "rebels" with ever greater creeping international status/legitimacy. Moreover, Putin's Russia within the UN Security Council would have one more lever of influence in drafting such mandate, in its further interpretation and any follow-up resolution(s).

Poroshenko though is more concerned now about the ever expanding ambitions for Ukraine territory of the "rebels" and their backer Putin. With Russian weapons and fighters flowing freely into Ukraine, Poroshenko has few military counter-punches. (See: "Ukraine Needs Political Solution, but can Diplomacy Succeed without Weapons?") The so-called "International Brigade," (consisting of non-Ukrainians and including nationalist Serbs and other Orthodox "volunteers"), and Russian "volunteers" could also be brought to greater scrutiny as potential mercenaries on basis of UN conventions and by the International Criminal Court.

The "rebels" claim that it is impossible to reintegrate Ukraine after all the fighting and killing. However, much of the violence and brutality has also been inflicted by the "rebels." Much of the carnage is not coincidental or collateral but as means to instill animosity, mistrust and fear. The population is forced to choose between one or the other side, and the work of the paramilitaries is to make the population feel complicit in the brutality and crimes. It is now a similar strategy executed by ISIS and before then in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) by the likes of Igor Strelkov and predecessors of the "International Brigade". (See: "Construction According to Putin's Model, from Bosnia to Europe?")

Protecting the Civilian Population:

Unlike the "rebels," President Poroshenko has the obligation to consider the safety and welfare of all the population of his country. A ceasefire at least overseen, not necessarily enforced, by UN mandated Peacekeepers is more likely to temper fighting and particularly abuses intentionally or collaterally inflicted upon Ukraine's peoples. Humanitarian aid is more likely to reach isolated and/or besieged towns. Again, as the government of BiH in the 1990s (and I as its UN Ambassador and subsequently Foreign Minister,) opted for UN Peacekeeping forces even as such may have facilitated the political agenda of the rebels. Even as UN Peacekeepers in BiH became less effective in tempering attacks and/or relieving sieges, they also remained part of a humanitarian lifeline as well as avenue for negotiations.

Ukraine may face the same result as BiH, and a Dayton Accords-like-conclusion to the conflict could perpetuate the political confrontation with Putin-backed rebels applying all sorts of measures to undermine the effectiveness of the central government in Kiev as well as the territorial integrity of the state. I have little doubt that Putin and his "rebel" proxies, much as Slobodan Milosevic two decades earlier, seek to have Poroshenko, (or his successor in the more distant future,) ratify the realities on the ground with some ostensibly negotiated deal that legitimizes the conquest, including Crimea. The UN Peacekeepers may only further embed such reality, but Poroshenko now has to worry more about minimizing the suffering of all Ukrainians, tempering provocations to create more ill will, and most critically blunting the advance of Putin and his proxies. There is already ample evidence that the "rebels" are ignoring the ceasefire, advancing further into Ukraine and seeking to expand their "realities on the ground." A resolution placed before the UN Security Council to mandate UN Peacekeepers in Ukraine would also test and/or expose Putin's sincerity.

Which Peacekeepers and How Serious a Mandate?

The nature of the Peacekeeping forces and the degree of their mandate to address violations would be critical. European sourced Peacekeepers would be more effective in this environment, and I have in previous Huff Post blog offered why troops from BiH with their unique experience and religious/ethnic mix would be a valuable contribution. (See: "Can Bosnia's Army Save the World?") Critically, the mandate should empower the Peacekeepers to be more than mere observers, (although it would be difficult to envision a "peacemaking" mission.) More to the point, violations should be met with at least sanctions and potential prosecution by the ICC. Russia's UN representatives will resist such terms; however, the desire to be an architect for a new Ukraine may induce Putin to agree to terms consistent with a reliable and at least diplomatically enforced ceasefire. Unfortunately for Ukraine and its people, it is in the jaws of Putin. It will be difficult to wrest some areas from Putin's imperial ambitions, but it is critical to keep the country as whole from being swallowed. While time may favor Putin and his proxies on first look, the values of more open, democratic, and European political/economic system has its own dynamics that may persevere over petty nationalism and personality cult politics. 


PHOTO:  Pro-Russia Rebel Flag (right) in the Ukraine looks eerily similar to US Confederate flag from 150 years prior.