At an Impasse

20 March 2015, 18:39

It has been a few weeks since the “Normandy format” meeting of the heads of states in Minsk and the signing of the road map for implementation of the previous Minsk accords signed back in September. The subsequent developments demonstrated that the agreements aren't quite working: fighting continues, including the use of heavy weapons. The withdrawal of heavy equipment is constantly either delayed, or imitated, the process of exchanging prisoners is on hold, additional terrorist forces are being deployed in the areas adjacent to the confrontation line and more equipment is crossing the state border from Russia. Statements on part of the OSCE, the EU or the Merkel-Hollande duo, or even the United States are yet to be backed up by any kind of effective measures in terms of punishing the violator of the Minsk agreements, even after such a blatantly obvious violation as the offensive operation to pressure Ukrainian forces into retreating from the Debaltseve area.

This saw the transformation of approach towards resolving the Donbas crisis by the parties involved. Now not only the EU is pushing to freeze the conflict to hold further advancement of the Russian/terrorist troops, but Ukraine as well. Meanwhile the terrorists and the Kremlin behind them, seeing that the West is reluctant to act in support of Ukraine and to give adequate response to the violation of agreements, are taking an increasingly aggressive stance. Russia and even the self-proclaimed republics no longer seek the recognition of the fact that their territory is not controlled by Kyiv. Instead they are raising the stakes setting the ever-growing demands in return of them stopping the attacks: from agreeing to economically support these territories to allowing them to take part in the comprehensive constitutional reform of the country in order to lay the foundations for a quasi-civil war now on the entire territory of Ukraine.

Peacekeeping barrier

On February 18, the National Defense and Security Council adopted an official address to the UN and the EU regarding the deployment of peacekeeping missions on the territory of Ukraine. During consultations at the UN Security Council in New York the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has said that “this initiative will by no means discard the Minsk accords. On the contrary, it is an irreplaceable tool for implementing these accords and for restoring peace. This will be the real crash test for the UN's commitment to peace and stability”.

The theme of the United Nations peacekeeping mission emerged due to the fact that the OSCE mission in the conflict zone turned out to be absolutely incapable of controlling the ceasefire and adherence to the agreements. However, the 70-year experience of the UN demonstrates that its peacekeeping contingents can be efficient only provided that certain conditions are met: either there needs to be genuine interest of both parties in stopping the hostilities, which allows the peacekeepers to keep minor spats and misunderstandings under control; or there needs to be the peace enforcement scenario where the peacekeeping contingent includes a powerful state capable of forcing into peace the side breaking it up.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Origins of Donetsk Separatism

Additionally, the conflict of interest between the world superpowers that happen to be permanent members of the UN Security Council complicates the situation further. History knows only one example when peacekeepers acting under the UN mandate were successfully used during the Cold War. It is the peace enforcement in Korea where the North Korean regime had at least one million Chinese "volunteers" from the regular army of the communist China with the support of the Soviet aviation and instructors. Incidentally, the current conflict in Donbas has much in common with that war, while the DNR and LNR (Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics – Ed.) have rather a lot in common with DPRK. The 1950-1953 Korean war, however, stands out by the readiness of the United States to take active part in defending Korea and the decisive stance of President Harry S. Truman, whose name is often associated with the effective response to the Soviet expansion in the form of the Deterrence Doctrine. In contrast, today's US President shows no readiness to such action. On top of that, the peacekeeping mission of the United States and the allies in Korea was granted the UN mandate almost by accident. At that time it was Taiwan that occupied China's place, while the representative of the Soviet Union instead of vetoing the resolution simply boycotted the Security Council meeting. Moscow never made that mistake again and shouldn't be expected to.

The head of the Russian Federation Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Aleksey Pushkov already went on record saying that “Kyiv will not be able to push the UN into sending peacekeepers to Ukraine without circumventing Russia. Such decisions are taken by the UN Security Council. Without our consent this is impossible.” That being said, Moscow has not explicitly opposed the very idea of deploying peacekeepers. For instance, the Russian Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin opposed the idea of deploying peacekeepers only in the terrorist-occupied territories and along the state border with Russia. While the head of the Federation Council Committee on Defence and Security Viktor Ozerov even stated that Russia may actually agree to the deployment of peacekeepers only on the existing line of confrontation with the Ukrainian forces, not along the border with Russia or in the occupied territories of Donbas.

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However, the Russian-proposed scenario of reintegration of Donbas to Ukraine as a destabilizing factor, an uncontrolled financial burden and part of the larger plan of nationwide federalization is far less acceptable for Ukraine than the actual separation of these territories. In addition, the effective monitoring of the confrontation line can decrease the danger of further Russian expansion. Deputy Head of Ukraine’s Presidential Administration Valeriy Chalyi emphasized that Russia, as the aggressor-state, cannot be allowed to partake in the UN peacekeeping mission. However, even if the peacekeeping contingent included Russian units, this, perhaps, wouldn't be the worst-case scenario, as it would make it harder for the Kremlin to avoid responsibility for the actions of the militants, forcing Russia to take formal responsibility for peace.It appears that Moscow hasn't quite realized that at this point Kyiv is morally at peace with idea of Abkhazia scenario for the occupied territories of Donbas and is prepared to abandon the plans to regain control over them. Therefore the Kremlin is still counting on Ukraine backing away from the peacekeeping initiative once it becomes clear that chances of deploying peacekeepers on the occupied territories or along the state border with Russia are slim, as opposed to deploying them along the current confrontation line. For instance, the head of the Russian State Duma Committee on Defence Vladimir Komoyedov showed genuine surprise that Kyiv is in favour of the idea to deploy peacekeepers along the line of confrontation, saying that in this case Kyiv will completely let go of Donbas.

There are two kinds of peacekeeping operations: monitoring missions and operations involving peacekeeping forces. Petro Poroshenko stated that for Ukraine “the best format is the European Union Police Mission”. The EU has sent its peacekeeping missions without the UN mandate only twice: to Macedonia in 2003 and to Libya in 2011. But it is unlikely that the EU will risk deploying its "blue helmets" along the very dangerous confrontation line in Donbas. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has already made it clear that stable truce supported by all sides of the conflict is the necessary condition for sending a peacekeeping mission to Ukraine.

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Unless the West shows real interest in the idea of deploying a peacekeeping mission, or takes decisive measures in the near future to support Ukraine and to increase pressure on Russia enough to force the Kremlin to give up the idea of furthering its offensive, Moscow's agreement to freeze the conflict by using peacekeepers and to establish the demarcation line is not to be expected.

In such a case there is ever growing possibility of the Russian occupation expanding deeper into the territory of Ukraine, which with the continued inaction of the West and the improving weather conditions may transform into an all-out offensive. In that case all this peacekeeping initiative can amount to is leverage to demand western support in arms supply in case there is no real commitment to guarantee control over the fulfillment of "peaceful resolution".

Economic isolation

In the short and medium-term prospect, Ukraine would suffer from regaining control over the Russian-occupied territories of Donbas. This would require not only making concessions to do with Constitutional amendments and the de-facto suspension of the Euro-Atlantic integration process that are both humiliating and dangerous for the future of the country.

It is also about the more trivial factors. It would be much easier to overcome the budget deficit issue if the hostilities in Donbas are to stop, and yet without the need to support the region economically, let alone to restore it. Preventing the political counterrevolution of the pro-Moscow forces inside the country would be much easier without the votes from the occupied territories. The threat of such counterrevolution is now increasingly high considering the deepening economic crisis in the country which is expected to only get worse throughout the course of 2015.

The authorities in Kyiv are currently taking the course of strengthening the blockade of the Donbas territories beyond Ukrainian control, as well as cutting other avenues of their financial support. Such a strategy is not publicized and its manifestations tend to be justified by objective circumstances, but it is becoming ever clearer nonetheless. Recently the Minister of Fuel and Energy has stated that the debt of the uncontrolled territories had reached UAH 7.5 billion for natural gas and UAH 3.5 billion for electricity. Due to this fact the National Regulator for State Energy and Public Utilities adopted a decision to suspend payments to energy-generating enterprises on the aforementioned territories.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Russian troops entered Donbas on August 23

On February 18, a comprehensive list of all energy-generating facilities located on the occupied territories that are no longer eligible for state financing has been adopted. The list includes the Starobesheve and Zuivska thermal power stations and four wind power stations. Similarly, February 18 saw the suspension of natural gas supply to the terrorist-controlled areas. Representatives of Ukrtransgaz, a state-owned operator of Ukraine’s gas transit system, explain that gas supply to the zone of hostilities has been stopped due to critical damage of infrastructure caused by the fighting. In response the Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev instructed his government to “come up with proposals to cover the natural gas demands” of the self-proclaimed republics.

And so, as of February 19, 3 p.m., Gazprom added new natural gas reception points Horlivka and Platovo located at the stretch of the Russian-Ukrainian border not controlled by Ukraine. The daily volume supplied through them is 12mn cu m, or around 360-370mn cu m per month, which is worth UAH 3-3.5 billion according to the current price set for Ukraine.

At present Gazprom is covering this supply out of the prior advance payment by Ukraine’s Naftogaz. Therefore in order to stop subsidizing gas supply for the terrorists, Ukraine must stop the practice of advance payment to Gazprom, which effectively means not purchasing Russian gas altogether. The 3.1bn cu m currently stored in underground gas storage facilities should suffice, provided the winter colds are behind.

There are similar problems with the Russian electricity supply to the terrorist-controlled areas via the electric power transmission line "Peremoha-Shakhty". Currently the Russian supplier InterRAO is counting the energy within the frameworks of the supply deal signed with Ukrinterenergo in December 2014.

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At the same time Russian officials are showing serious concerns regarding the strengthening blockade of Donbas by Ukraine and even hinting that ceasefire should be viewed as dependant on the economic support from Kyiv. The head of Parliamentary Committee on Defence Vladimir Komoyedov declared: “ceasing the artillery fire is just one aspect, but the people need to live on somehow, to receive wages, pensions”. According to him, if Ukraine imposes the regime of complete economic lockdown of these territories, it will become impossible for the occupying forces to provide the population of Donbas with all the necessities.

Aggression course

In these circumstances, unless the West takes effective measures, the situation will most likely develop into further offensive by the “Armed Forces of Novorossiya” deeper into Ukraine in order to destabilize the situation and try to imitate “civil war”. The maximum objective is to fuel a quasi-civil war on the entire territory of Ukraine, and at the minimum – to finally create the puppet state Novorossiya in Ukraine's southern and eastern regions. The "Deputy Commander of the Staff of the DNR Militia" Eduard Basurin already threatened to unilaterally withdraw from the Minsk agreements at any suitable time under the pretext of “shelling of DNR army positions”.

Another occurrence supporting the likelihood of this scenario being realized in 2015 is the recent flurry of media activity by the fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and his former prime minister Mykola Azarov. Yanukovych declared: “as soon as I get the opportunity, I'll return and do my best to help ease the life for the population of Ukraine”. Meanwhile Azarov offered the initiative to create “the government in exile”, as a “representative body that will deliver to the public an alternative point of view and come up with concepts for the development of the country…  joining all forces capable of resisting this anti-Ukrainian regime in Ukraine”. And, perhaps, arriving under the flags of the "Armed Forces of Novorossiya" to take direct control of the territories it seizes.

The supposed large-scale general mobilization (purportedly more than 100,000) declared in the self-proclaimed republics on February 11 can become the formal cover for the most combat-ready units of the Russian regular army invading under the "rebels" banner. In this case Russia will not need to openly carry out full-scale invasion. First of all, it will not be able to send a 200-300,000-strong army without carrying out at least partial mobilization on its territory. Russia has only so many combat-ready units, and some of them are needed in other regions of the Russian Federation. Instead an army of 150-200,000 personnel, more than half of them Russian regular troops, can become a potent enough force to carry out a number of strategic advances into the most critical areas of confrontation followed by rapid headway deeper into the territory of Ukraine.

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