Peacekeeping Mission in the East of Ukraine: What Options are on the Table?

The conflict in Donbas has been tearing Ukraine for more than three years. It has devastating consequences not only for the country’s integrity but also for European security and Russia’s relations with its Western partners. Despite the efforts of Normandy Fourto put an end to violence, hostilities continue. The Minsk II agreement on the ceasefire is violated, which is proved by OSCE Special Mission controlling the respect of the agreement. The purpose of a peacekeeping operation that has been discussed a lot lately is to guarantee the safety of OSCE staff and the regular flow of their activities.

There are two views on the format of a peacekeeping operation in the East of Ukraine. One was enshrined in the resolution drafted by Russia and submitted to the UN Security Council in September 2017. The other view was expressed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in his speech in the UN General Assembly and during his meeting with President Trump. The comparison of these two projects reveals not only the discrepancy between Russia and Ukraine in the treatment of this conflict but also the evolution of the paradigm of peacekeeping operations in general.

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The concept of peacekeeping and its evolution

Peacekeeping is one of the types of third party involvement in the conflict. The concept of peacekeeping was forged after the Second World War and has been evolving over the years. The first peacekeeping operations were deployed by the UN to maintain the ceasefire in the Middle East and in the conflict between India and Pakistan. Both missions did not have military functions, the personnel being unarmed[1].

The UN is empowered to use force upon the decision of the Security Council if the measures not involving the use of armed force “have proved to be inadequate… to maintain and restore international peace or security”[2]. For the first time the UN “made war” in Congo in 1960-1964 loosing 250 UN personnel. This leads us to draw a line between “peacekeeping” and “peace enforcement” that can be undertaken by the UN or other international organizations in order to stop hostilities and proceed to the final resolution of conflicts.

The nature of global threats and conflicts have changed since the concept of peacekeeping emerged, the debate whether the UN peacekeeping activities should be reformed is brewing. Nowadays internal conflicts outnumber inter-state conflicts, one of the parties usually being a non-state actor. It undermines the founding principle of peacekeeping operations – the consent of both parties for third-party involvement – as one of them does not have international legal personality. Another option is the deployment of a peacekeeping (or peace enforcement) operation upon the decision of an empowered international organization. If the right of the UN Security Council to take such actions is not disputed, the legitimacy of operations undertaken by other organizations can arouse doubts. For instance, NATO Operation Allied Force against Yugoslavia (1999) was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council and, therefore, its legitimacy was questioned by other members of the international community, particularly by Russia.


Two competing projects

The idea of deploying peacekeeping personnel in Donbas is not new. In 2015 President Poroshenko already addressed the UN with a request to send a peacekeeping mission to the East of Ukraine. He also considered a possibility of the EU Police Mission[3]. However, the first option was unviable because of the lack of support from Russia that would veto such a proposal in the Security Council. The EU in its turn was not enthusiast about strengthening its involvement in the conflict.

This issue re-emerged in the run-up to the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly when Russia for the first time put forward its own initiative of a peacekeeping operation in the East of Ukraine. At the request of President Putin, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs drafted a resolution that later was submitted to the UN Security Council. The resolution is based on three key principles[4]:

  • the UN peacekeeping operation functions should be limited to the protection of OSCE mission personnel and deployed only across the line of separation;
  • the consent of both parties to the conflict, i.e. official Ukrainian government and Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, is required to deploy the UN personnel;
  • The operation should be preceded by withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons.

In other words, Russia supports the deployment of a “traditional” UN peacekeeping mission based on the impartiality of its personnel, the consent of both parties and the use of force limited to self-protection of the UN staff. It complies with Russia’s stance on the use of force in international relations. Russia’s foreign minister reiterated this position at the US Security Council, declaring that

“The available experience of giving peacekeepers additional powers to use force, for instance, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, has not yet convinced us that the higher casualties caused by peacekeepers during coercive operations are justified by the results achieved on the ground”.

President Poroshenko who delivered a speech in the UN General Assembly in September 2017, urged to deploy a “full-scale” UN peacekeeping mission. Ukraine also underlines that it should be a “peace enforcement mission”, which implies that its functions will not be purely protective. What is more, Ukraine insists on Russia being acknowledged the party to the conflict (“aggressor”). As a consequence Russian troops would not be able to take part in the mission. Another point of contradiction with Russia’s draft resolution is the area of mission deployment. According to the Ukrainian plan, it should embrace all territories “under occupation” and monitor the Russian-Ukrainian border. It is seen by Russia as an attempt to review Minsk II agreement stipulating that the control of the border shall be established after the political settlement of the conflict[5].

It is obvious that Ukraine wants to reduce Russia’s involvement in the conflict settlement. However, without Russia, it is difficult to imagine a functional resolution. Russia is directly concerned with the situation in its nearest abroad and still has an influence on Russian speaking population in the post-soviet republics.


The review of peacekeeping missions in the post-soviet space

Russia has the experience of participating in conflict settlement and peacekeeping missions in the post-soviet space. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, rising nationalism led to violence in several post-soviet republics (Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Tadzhikistan). We can track down similarities with the present Ukrainian conflict. Back then, Russia also acted as a defender of the rights of Russian speaking minorities in former Soviet republics. The peacekeeping missions deployed at the time can be, to some extent, considered as patterns for an eventual mission in the East of Ukraine.

Georgia was hit by two conflicts – in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In the first case, the legal basis for a peacekeeping mission was Dagomys agreement on ceasefire signed by Russia and Georgia in 1992. The created Joint Peacekeeping Forces Group comprised troops from Russia and Georgia as the signatories of the agreement and North and South Ossetia that initialled it.

As for Abkhazia, the UN military observers were sent to the conflict area in the end of 1993. Later on the basis of the ceasefire agreement signed between the two parties on May 14, 1994, CIS collective peacekeeping forces were deployed in the Republic in order to prevent the resumption of hostilities. It is a good example of how a regional organization can cooperate with the UN in peacekeeping activities. Although the missions in Georgia had been successfully accomplishing their goals for more than a decade, they did not prevent the war of 2008. It shows that the deployment of a peacekeeping mission cannot substitute for the final resolution of conflicts.

The peacekeeping mission in Transdniester (Republic of Moldova) is similar to the South-Ossetian one. The ceasefire agreement that initiated the mission was signed in 1992 between Russia and Moldova, Transdniester not being recognized as a state entity. Peacekeeping forces are composed of Russian, Moldovan and Transnistrian personnel. The peacekeeping mission in Transdniester can be considered the most successful mission in the post-soviet space as it has been managing to prevent hostilities since 1992. Nevertheless, Moldova has for a long time been aspiring to internationalize the mission in order to reduce Russia’s influence in the region.

The debates around mission in Transdniestrier exemplify the shift of balance in the post-soviet space, especially in the Eastern Europe. The European vector of the development of Moldova explains its desire to transform the tripartite forces into an international civil mission. The same is true for Ukraine whose European aspirations provoked the actual crisis. In Ukrainian plan of a peacekeeping mission, we can clearly see its desire to reduce Russia’s influence in the conflict regulation. That’s why the formats of peacekeeping missions deployed in the 1990s cannot be applied without modifications. But the exclusion of Russia from this process is not a viable option either.

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After the analysis of the two actual projects of the peacekeeping mission in the East of Ukraine, it may seem that the stances of Russia and Ukraine are irreconcilable. However, without the consent of both countries, the deployment of a mission is not realistic. The eventual settlement of this problem will depend on the parties’ political will. This situation can also serve as an impetus for the UN peacekeeping operations reform.



Maria Tonkova

ex-student, Moscow State University of International Relations, Russia.





[2]The UN Charter, art. 42.

[3]Russian Business Channel, February 19, 2015. – URL:


[5]Peacekeeping in Ukraine: Russia’s proposals and the perspective of their realization. – URL:

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