So recently the US and Germany have, for some strange reason, reacted with measured optimism toward Vladimir Putin’s latest suggestions about a UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbas region of Ukraine. What a great guy- he starts a war and then sells you the solution! Seriously though, I’m disturbed that the State Department and the German Ministry didn’t immediately tell Putin to shove his peacekeeping plan up his own ass once they heard his “conditions.”
Essentially Putin wants the UN peacekeeping mission to include Russian participation (yeah I’m sure they’ll be totally impartial), he wants it to involve direct negotiations with his proxy actors in the occupied territory, and it should patrol the line of contact between his pseudo-states and government-controlled territory. Just as others have already pointed out, this amounts to nothing but an attempt to solidify control over the occupied territories and permanently freezing the conflict in the manner of Transnistria, South Ossetia, or Abkhazia. UN peacekeepers will keep Ukraine’s armed forces from retaking the territory and possibly firing back when his proxies decide to loose a few shells, and the world will treat the conflict according to the Kremlin’s rhetoric, i.e. as a “civil war.” As if all this weren’t enough to convince you that this plan is nothing but Kremlin bullshit, check out the “DNR/LNR” reaction to the plan, as reported by Russian state media.
Basically, Putin’s “peacekeeping initiative” is the diplomatic equivalent of the “wallet inspector” scam. While it’s obvious he’s not acting in good faith, it’s interesting to speculate why he might be offering this now. There do seem to be signs that Russia might be trying to extricate itself from Donbas. Since early 2015, Russia’s objective has been to shove the territories back into Ukraine so that Kyiv is forced to pay for them while maintaining proxy forces there which could continue to influence Ukrainian politics in the Kremlin’s favor. Of course Kyiv is well aware of Putin’s desire to have his cake and eat it too, which is why they have no plans to grant Russia’s conditions of Minsk II before Russia grants their demands, such as control over the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Putin’s latest offer just seems like an attempt to make an end run around this impasse and perhaps cut costs associated with supplying his proxy forces in the region. Also, if there are Russian “peacekeepers” there, Putin can always use an alleged attack on them as pretext to invade and take more territory, or at least punish the Ukrainian Armed Forces and destabilize the situation for Kyiv. Like in the 2008 Georgia War, Russia would benefit from being able to claim retaliation for attacks on “peacekeepers.”
I could go on, but I think by now it’s painfully clear that there is absolutely nothing good in this offer and really the best answer the US or any country could have sent to Putin would have been a note on official letterhead reading:
Dear Mr. Putin,
The media can also help. When reporting on Putin’s peace overtures, they can point out that Putin is actually a party to the conflict, as well as its initiator. As my friend Paul Niland in Kyiv has often pointed out, reporters should stop reporting Russian denials on involvement without adding that said denials are contradicted by “overwhelming evidence.” It’s clear that one more motive for this latest ploy is for Putin to once again promote himself as a peacemaker and advocate of stability. The media shouldn’t give him the opportunity.
Lastly, while everyone’s making wild proposals about peacekeeping missions here, let me present my official Russia Without BS United Nations Peacekeeping Plan for the Donbas (patent pending). It works like this:
Russia pulls all forces out of the Donbas.
UN Peacekeeping troops deploy along the Russian-Ukrainian border, on the Russian side of it, with the mission of preventing Russia from invading again.
Crimea, Kuban, and Far East go to Ukraine as reparations.
Sanctions are removed so Russia no longer has to squash cheese with bulldozers.
You may call it extreme, but it’s a small price to pay for peace and stability in the region. You’re not against peace,are you?