Report

Ukraine Calls Russia’s Bluff: If You Want Peace, Authorize Peacekeepers

Foreign Policy’s exclusive interview with Ukraine’s ambassador.

ARTEMIVSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 19: Ukrainian soldiers drive tanks along the road leading out of Debaltseve on February 19, 2015 in Artemivsk, Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have begun withdrawing from the strategic and hard-fought town of Debaltseve after being effectively surrounded by pro-Russian rebels. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
ARTEMIVSK, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 19: Ukrainian soldiers drive tanks along the road leading out of Debaltseve on February 19, 2015 in Artemivsk, Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have begun withdrawing from the strategic and hard-fought town of Debaltseve after being effectively surrounded by pro-Russian rebels. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

The uncertain prospect of sending U.N. peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine gives Russia a chance to prove just how committed it is to upholding the crumbling cease-fire, Kiev’s ambassador to the United States said Thursday.

It’s also an opportunity for Ukraine to try to put Moscow on the spot at the U.N. Security Council — especially if other nations support Kiev’s peacekeeping request.

“If Russia is actually interested in peace as it claims, it has to support this resolution that would authorize the peacekeeping forces in Ukraine,” Ambassador Olexander Motsyk said in an interview with Foreign Policy on Thursday.

He was referring to Kiev’s demand, announced in an emergency meeting late Wednesday, for U.N. troops to monitor a cease-fire along the front line in eastern Ukraine and the Ukraine-Russia border. The move, which would require a U.N. Security Council resolution, is sure to face stiff resistance, if not an outright veto by Moscow, which Motsyk described as hypocritical.

Motsyk cited concerns that the new cease-fire pact, signed Feb. 12, “is also under threat and that Russia, together with the separatists, are and will continue to violate the new agreement.”

So far, other nations have stopped far short of embracing the plan for peacekeepers — even if it has yet to be ruled out.

While the EU said it wanted more details before endorsing a peacekeeping plan, a senior U.S. official would only commit to exploring a “range of options” to secure a “durable solution” to the crisis, in an email with FP.

Potentially, China could be convinced to abstain from a vote on a peacekeeping mission, given its significant agricultural investments in Ukraine and previous reluctance to explicitly endorse Moscow’s intervention in the country. Like Russia, China is also a permanent member of the Security Council, and even a refusal by Beijing to use its veto would be a huge symbolic slap to Moscow.

Russia wasted no time in denouncing the proposed peacekeeping mission. “I think it’s a little bit disturbing, because they just signed the Minsk agreements on Feb. 12,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., told RT. “The Minsk agreements provide for the role of the OSCE. There is nothing about the U.N. or European Union.”

In recent days, the Minsk agreement has come under tremendous strain after intense fighting around the strategic railway town of Debaltseve that saw thousands of Ukrainian troops flee in retreat from Russian-backed separatists. Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko claimed on Thursday that Kiev had suffered 14 deaths and 172 injuries in the past 24 hours.

Outside Debaltseve, the cease-fire has largely been observed. However, the Ukrainian military has accused separatists of shelling an area outside of the strategic port city of Mariupol on Thursday.

The fresh loss in Debaltseve and the proposal for peacekeepers comes as Ukraine approaches the one-year mark from when then-president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country after protests in Kiev’s Maidan square.

Since then Ukraine has found itself struggling to balance a war in the east, and follow through with the promised political and economic reforms demanded by protesters. In recent weeks, public pressure against Poroshenko’s government has grown as the Ukrainian currency, the hryvina, fell to a record low on Wednesday. A $40 billion International Monetary Fund bailout is set to see gas prices triple, adding strain to an already financially burdened public.

“Completing the reforms will be difficult, but it is vital for Ukraine’s future. The war is not an excuse to not do reforms,” Motsyk told FP.

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @reidstan

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