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Bloomberg View | 07Sep2017 | Editors, [2] W.Z.

Putin's Ukraine Peace Offer Is a Trojan Horse

Russia wants UN peacekeepers to keep its latest "frozen conflict" from thawing.

[W.Z. See my response below.]

No, Vladimir Putin has not suddenly become a man of peace. His recent overture in Ukraine should be seen for what it is -- an effort to further his own interests -- and treated as such.

After the Russian president called for bringing United Nations peacekeepers into the Ukraine conflict, Germany's foreign minister said he was "very glad" about the "surprising" development from a Kremlin that had previously shunned calls for an international force. Nobody who knows Putin well should be so gullible.

While the Ukrainian government and its Western supporters have also called for the UN to monitor the civil war in Eastern Ukraine, they have rightly insisted that the peacekeepers monitor the border with Russia, where arms and advisers pour in to aid the separatist rebels aiming to split the nation further apart. Yet Putin wants the international force to patrol only the unofficial dividing line between the breakaway regions and the Ukrainian military. His goal, clearly, is to have the UN forces establish a de facto independent state for the Russia-aligned forces.

This Ukraine strategy -- including the annexation of Crimea through an illegal referendum in 2014 -- is of a piece with Putin's long-term goal of creating a series of "frozen conflicts" around Russia's borders to serve as a buffer zone between his nation and what he sees as a hostile West. Others involve the breakaway Transnistria region in Moldova as well as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the Caucasus, which have been under the Kremlin's thumb since the brief border war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

The West should see Putin's latest offer in Ukraine for what it is: a Trojan horse to solidify the pro-Russian rebels' hold on Eastern Ukraine. If there are to be talks about UN peacekeepers, they must begin with an understanding that they will patrol the Ukraine-Russia border and interdict all military aid flowing to the breakaway regions.

The U.S. and its allies should also consider measures that might give Ukraine greater leverage in talks to restore its full sovereignty, including shipping so-called lethal defensive weapons such as Javelin anti-tank missiles. They should also be straightforward with the Ukrainian government that it will never unify the nation without a serious effort to eliminate corruption and to punish those on the nationalist side who have committed war crimes in the civil conflict.

Yes, the Ukraine conflict has cooled and slipped off the headlines, but that's not really an improvement: It's exactly what Putin wants.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at [email protected] .


Peacemakers not Peacekeepers are required in Ukraine's Donbas

Dear David Shipley:
(via Email: [email protected] )

I was favorably impressed with the Bloomberg View article at https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-09-07/putin-s-ukraine-peace-offer-is-a-trojan-horse dated 07Sep2017 and titled "Putin's Ukraine Peace Offer Is a Trojan Horse". The article correctly identifies that Vladimir Putin's intention is to create a frozen conflict similar to Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and wherever else Russian "peacekeepers" are stationed.

Nevertheless, I maintain that fully armed peacemakers, not peacekeepers, should be deployed in the Donbas under the sponsorship of the United Nations and/or the European Union. These military units (from Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain, etc. with their own tanks and armored vehicles) would first of all be responsible for controlling the border crossings and border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Secondly, they would patrol both sides of the present demarcation line between Ukraine and the Russian-occupied Donbas. Thirdly, they would identify/control/monitor the heavy armaments already stationed in the region. Fourthly, they would eventually be expected to provide backup to internally-generated (but internationally-approved) police forces established to maintain law and order throughout the region.

Before this phase is implemented all parties concerned must recognize and accept that the territorial integrity of Ukraine would be maintained and eventually come under the full control of the Ukrainian government.

The next phase of the operation is expected to be long and arduous. It would entail re-establishing governmental and civic institutions and services; the return of pro-Ukrainian media and volunteer/civic/political organizations to establish dialogue with the local inhabitants; rebuilding critical infrastructure destroyed during the war (requiring massive international funding and investment); the return of most of the 1.6 million internally displaced refugees; and a myriad of other issues.

Needless to say, the Russian-led insurrection in the spring of 2014 and the creation of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics (LPR and DPR) has been a sociological and economic disaster for the region. But even before this Russian occupation, the Donbas had been in economic decline, since many of its coal mines were becoming exhausted and uneconomic. Furthermore, since Ukraine's independence in 1991, normal "legal" trade with the Russian Federation has been drastically curtailed, which has resulted in the rise of organized crime and corrupt oligarchs.

Since the assassination of Yevhen Shcherban on 03Nov1996, Donetsk-born Rinat Akhmetov has become the richest oligarch in Ukraine. He appears to have direct connections to Vladimir Putin, has tried to act as a mediator and has provided humanitarian aid to the occupied region. Nevertheless, many of his business assets have been "nationalized" by the LPR and DPR regimes. Mr. Akhmetov is likely to become directly involved in the reconstruction of the Donbas and its re-integration into the Ukrainian economy.

For the past three years, the inhabitants of the Donbas have been fed a constant stream of disinformation demonizing the Ukrainian government and ethnic Ukrainians, in general. Any manifestation of pro-Ukrainian sympathies results in physical violence, incarceration or worse. Such "ethnic cleansing" has resulted in some 1.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). It must be noted that before the Russian occupation (and even thereafter), opinion polls indicated that the majority of the inhabitants did not support separatism and wished to remain within Ukraine. Obviously, it will take several years after the IDPs return to their homes before the sociological situation normalizes and political elections can be held.

As the above paragraphs imply, organized crime and corruption were and remain rampant in the Donbas region. (This also applies to the rest of Ukraine and, indeed, to the rest of the world, as revealed by the Panama Papers and the ongoing Mueller inquiry in the United States.) The resolution of the conflict in the Donbas must address this problem. This would require rigorous oversight by all the parties involved to insure that all actions are transparent and legal.

Historically, Ukraine has always been a battleground between the democratic countries to the West and the authoritarian countries to the East. It is incredible that despite its internationally recognized independence in 1991 and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (guaranteeing its independence and territorial integrity in exchange for giving up its nuclear arsenal), it is once again threatened with dismemberment and destruction. A "wise" resolution to the Donbas conflict could set a precedent for similar conflicts throughout the world.

William Zuzak; 2017.09.14