The US special envoy to Ukraine has called the Russian proposal for a UN peacekeeping force there “a step forward” but warned the terms of the mandate must not “deepen the division” of the conflict-torn country. Kurt Volker was reacting to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent comments in favour of a UN force to protect international observers monitoring the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. “It’s very interesting that Russia proposed a UN protection mission… This is a step forward in a way bringing it up for discussion and bringing it to the (UN) Security Council,” Volker said on the sidelines of the Yalta European Strategy conference.
But he added he was concerned that the terms of the Russian proposal “would only deepen the division of Ukraine,” where a pro-Moscow insurgency has been raging in the industrial east near the border with Russia since April 2014. Ukraine — which has long called for UN peacekeepers to be deployed — fears Moscow would use any force to lock in gains made by Kremlin-backed rebels, and is simply trying to ease the international pressure it faces. In the US envoy’s view, the UN force’s mission should not be limited to protecting the OSCE observers at the demarcation line between zones controlled by Kiev and those held by the pro-Russian separatists — a view shared by Kiev.
“It would only protect monitors, not people. It would not give access to control the Russia-Ukraine border,” said Volker. “There’s a lot of obstacles, a lot of problems with the way it was proposed.” Volker however said he hoped that “we can talk about the idea of a genuine peacekeeping force, one that would be focused on the security in the entire area”. He also said the force should control the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia and help stop the flow of heavy weapons, which cross the frontier to supply the separatists according to Kiev and its Western allies.
Despite overwhelming evidence of its involvement, Moscow continues to deny that it has played a role in the fighting that has claimed more than 10,000 lives. Some 600 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are on the ground in eastern Ukraine but their presence has failed to stop the fighting. A peace plan brokered by Germany and France in Minsk in 2015 has hit a wall, with Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of not fulfilling their obligations.