Kostiantyn Yelisieiev: the EU Operation Is the Best Option for Settlement in the Donbas
21 March 2015 16:17

Deployment of the EU mission in the Donbas would become a step towards real, not virtual settlement of the conflict. In particular, it would help to restore control over the Ukrainian-Russian border and hold free and democratic local elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Representative of Ukraine to the European Union Kostiantyn Yelisieiev briefed on these and other aspects of an international peacekeeping and security operation in the framework of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in an exclusive interview with Ukrinform.


- Mr. Ambassador, what arguments do you adduce to your partners in the EU to explain the need for the deployment of an international peacekeeping and security operation in the Donbas?

- Based upon the initiative of President Petro Poroshenko, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine took the decision to appeal to the UN Security Council and the EU Council with a request to deploy an international peacekeeping and security operation in the territory of Ukraine. The decision was enacted by the Head of State and approved by the Ukrainian Parliament. On 18 March 2015, the Mission of Ukraine to the EU submitted the appeal of the Verkovna Rada to the leadership of the European Union.

Taking this decision, the state authorities proceeded, first of all, from the need to create conditions for the effective implementation of provisions of the Minsk agreements, immediately settle the crisis in the Donbas and prevent further escalation of tensions.

Russia and pro-Russian militants regularly violate ceasefire and provoke battle clashes, obstructing the activities of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in the areas controlled by them. This is exactly why the urgent need for providing additional and effective international presence on the ground arose to restore peace in the Donbas.

The Mission of Ukraine to the EU initiated the work to ensure proper consideration of the appeal of our state by relevant EU institutions. We requested our partners to start consultations on launching a peacekeeping operation within the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. This issue was also raised by Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the meetings with the EU leadership during his visit to Brussels on 19 March 2015.

Similar work is underway in New York within the United Nations.

- Why exactly the EU peacekeeping mission is seen by Ukraine as the desirable option? 

- The EU’s experience in peacekeeping and conflict settlement in most cases is positive and demonstrates effectiveness of the approaches it chooses. Many of the EU operations resulted not only in peaceful stabilization of crises in different parts of the world, including Europe, but also provided sustainable post-conflict development.

Prominent example in this regard is the EU operations on conflict settlement in the Balkans. Active and direct involvement of the European Union in settling the Balkan crisis not only provided peace, but also laid a solid basis for the gradual European integration of the region’s states, bringing them closer to the EU membership. Thus, for instance, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, which were affected by military conflicts, are already today the EU membership candidates.

Another reason for requiring namely the EU’s involvement in a peacekeeping and security operation in Ukraine is that the conflict in the Donbas and aggressive policy of Russia against international stability are a big challenge for and a threat to the EU itself. Thereby, the EU’s CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) mission would provide important contribution to the stabilization of the all-European security in general, as well as an investment in its strengthening for the future.


- Is It Inconsistent with the Minsk Agreements, as the Kremlin claims?

- In no way. On the contrary, the European Union’s mission will focus on facilitating their safe implementation.  In addition, the EU, which, unlike Russia, is not a party to the Minsk process, has a political and moral right to act as its guarantor. The EU’s CSDP operation would ensure sustainability of the peace process, prevent escalation and possible provocations and eliminate a threat of enlargement of the conflict area.

Moreover, judging from international peacekeeping experience, the implementation of any peaceful arrangements requires strong political and security support on the ground.

- There is an argument that at first all possibilities of the OSCE SMM and current diplomatic dialogue to stop the conflict should be fully exploited...

- Firstly. Launch of the EU’s CSDP mission does not constitute any alternative to current international efforts towards the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas, but, vice versa, should be aimed at establishing proper security environment for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. And here we must admit that at the moment, in fact, the only instrument ensuring such an environment is a political declaration of the leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France and Russia. Taking into account the development of the events after 12 February 2015, including the seizure of Ukrainian town of Debaltseve by Russian-backed militants, one of the parties from the mentioned quartet is regularly challenging the reached agreements by misinterpreting their provisions and avoiding responsibility. That is why additional instruments and practical guarantees of the implementation of the Minsk agreements should be applied. 

Secondly. It has been already about a year since the OSCE SMM in Ukraine was launched. The search for diplomatic ways of settling the conflict in various international formats has been taken place for approximately the same period. Unfortunately, the situation remains unstable and fragile.

- What are the reasons for this?

- The reasons are obvious. On the one hand, Russia openly demonstrates unwillingness to settle the conflict. On the other hand, it is a pity, but the current mandate of the OSCE SMM is very limited and compromise, first of all because of the position of Russia as an influential member of this Organisation. Even decisions on an inconsiderable extension of the OSCE SMM mandate and a slight strengthening of its technical capabilities are facing constant difficulties in implementation.

Under the current circumstances which require decisive and prompt actions corresponding to constant changes of the situation, the OSCE and, respectively, the process of the Minsk agreements’ implementation should not be a hostage of political will of one OSCE member state. This should be prevented.

Thirdly. Initially, the OSCE mission was really the only possibility to urgently provide monitoring of the situation in the Donbas by our international partners. However, further evolution of the conflict and a quite complicated nature of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements, which depend on many factors of security nature, require elaboration by the world community of new innovative approaches and practical instruments.

In this context, a number of logical questions arise. Who could most effectively establish the conditions necessary for safe and democratic local elections? What instruments will ensure the restoration of control over the Ukrainian-Russian border and its proper management to stop the flow of mercenaries, weapons and military vehicles to Ukraine? How shall we train, in the most efficient and professional way, well-functioning law enforcement agencies which should ensure security in the region and facilitate the return of the Donbas to peaceful life? How shall we secure conditions for a safe and unimpeded delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid to the affected population of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts?

My answer is that the best option under the current circumstances would be deployment of the relevant mission of the EU which has a wide experience, real capacities and modern resources for the fulfilment of the mentioned tasks.

The EU’s CSDP mission could be more dynamic, much better equipped and managed due to incomparably better capabilities of EU member states and well functioning common security and defence structures, including military and intelligence ones.

I will give you one specific example. Even in such issues as providing a proper monitoring of the situation in the conflict area and verification of heavy weapons withdrawal, we cannot proceed without the engagement of the EU Satellite Centre, located in Spain, which can provide profound information on the real situation in the Donbas.

Deployment of the EU operation would become a step towards real, not virtual settlement of the conflict.

What will be the difference in the functions of the OSCE SMM and the EU mission?

- OSCE and the EU missions should complement each other, as well as improve the efficiency of the whole set of measures of the international community to settle the situation in the Donbas.

However, the nature and context of their mandates will be absolutely different. While the tasks of the OSCE SMM are monitoring of the situation in the conflict area and verification of the implementation of the Minsk agreements, the EU mission would focus on creating a secure and stable environment for the peace process on the basis of the reached agreements.

Focusing on political and security aspects of peace-building in the Donbas, the EU mission would be a deterrent to the resumption of hostilities and remilitarization of the Donbas after the withdrawal of illegal military forces and equipment, as stipulated in the Minsk agreements. The EU peacekeeping efforts should include the provision of effective control over the border with Russia, as well as filling the security vacuum until the restoration of the law enforcement and security system in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts in accordance with the Minsk agreements and Ukrainian legislation.

However, the key task of the EU peacekeeping operation should be the creation of a proper environment for holding democratic and free local elections in the areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts which will determine the success of the entire peace process.

- Will the EU be able to implement the set of tasks and bring added value to international peacekeeping efforts in the Donbas?

- Against the background of Russian aggression against Ukraine and activities of the Kremlin to undermine international stability, the EU is now seriously rethinking its international security role, especially when it comes to EU close neighbours. In this regard, I am convinced that the formation of a strong, stable and European Ukraine will be a huge contribution to European security and, therefore, the main added value within the EU operation in the framework of the CSDP.

The current crisis around Ukraine is a challenge for the European Union which has to prove that it is a powerful and effective subject of the global security policy. Under these circumstances, traditional approaches and achievements of “soft power” in the EU’s European policy and considerable efforts which have already been made and the EU’s funds which have already been spent should be protected and multiplied by the relevant means and tools.

In this context, I want to remind you of the recent statement of President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker regarding the need for a European army. The beginning of such a discussion shows growth of understanding in the EU of the need to consolidate and strengthen its role in protecting the security environment in Europe. I think that the launch of the EU mission within the framework of the CSDP in the heart of Europe will be a major and tangible contribution in this field.

In the future, the EU CSDP mission to Ukraine should also contribute to the range of other EU efforts to support our state on the path of reforms and the European integration – in political, economic, financial, humanitarian aspects, as it was and still remains in situation with the Balkan states.




- How does the EU respond to these expectations of Ukraine?

-  The call of Ukraine upon the EU to launch the CSDP operation was heard and now it is being considered by the relevant EU bodies. There are different opinions and approaches in the EU in this connection, now the optimal solution is being searched for.

In its turn, Ukraine is open to the search for an appropriate balance between the political and security needs, required by the situation in the Donbas, and the real potential and resources of the EU in this area.

We are aware of all the political, legal and technical aspects to be resolved by the EU in order to launch a CSDP mission in Ukraine. Interests and visions of 28 EU member states, which sometimes are significantly different, require coordination. However, by appealing to the EU, Ukraine proceeds from real security needs and available opportunities that exist in the international community, but not from potential obstacles, technical difficulties or political expediency. We are convinced that potential difficulties of the process and an expected long time frame for a practical deployment of the mission should not prevent a balanced consideration of the issue and prejudge the EU position.

That is why already today we need to move away from political discussions and start a substantive professional consideration of this issue.

- The need for relevant UN Security Council decision to launch an international peacekeeping and security mission is often voiced. What are the chances that such a decision could be taken? Is it possible to deploy the UN peacekeepers in Ukraine?

- Ukraine has requested the peacekeeping support both from the UN and the European Union. So, today Ukrainian diplomacy is actively working on these two tracks.

But we must be realistic. Prospects for a positive UN’s decision to send peacekeepers to Ukraine are currently low.

Ukraine also fully supports the idea that the EU future operation could receive a mandate from the UN Security Council. Moreover, it would be a logical extension of the resolution approved by the Security Council supporting the Minsk agreements of 12 February 2015, as the EU operation should be aimed at their practical implementation.

That is why Russia should have reaffirmed in practice its commitments undertaken in Minsk on 12 February 2015, contributed to the peaceful settlement of the conflict and, I lay special emphasis on this, should have taken all possible steps to this end. So this chance to persuade Russia to act in accordance with the international law must be used.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council’s resolution is a very welcome and desirable, but not obligatory legal instrument for launching a peacekeeping mission under the auspices of the EU. Thus, the decision may be taken directly by the EU Council’s consensus decision upon the relevant sovereign request of Ukraine. Fortunately, Russia has no veto right in the EU.

- How do you assess the prospects for a positive EU decision to launch the CSDP operation, taking account of indecision or lack of interest of individual EU member states with respect to this issue?

- On the one hand, the EU is already considering the so-called hybrid war in eastern Ukraine as the biggest challenge to its security since the Balkan crisis, where it was actively involved as a peacemaker.

On the other hand, all European states should fully realize that stability and peace in Ukraine is their direct interest. The sooner the conflict is settled and Russia is back into the framework of the international law, restores the territorial integrity of Ukraine and respect for our sovereignty, the faster the conditions for the normalization of the political situation in Europe, including relations with Russia, will be created.

However, it should be noted that, in accordance with the relevant procedures of the EU, the scope and content of the practical contribution of each EU member state to the CSDP operation will be decided on an individual national basis and taking into account the security visions and approaches of each of them. Furthermore, candidate states and EU partners traditionally join the EU operations and we would welcome such support from European states outside the EU.

I would like to remind you as well that Ukraine has every right to expect specific practical political and security support from the EU.

Above all, the Ukrainian initiative is consistent with the spirit of Ukraine-EU relations based on the Association Agreement.

Ukraine, as the EU partner, has always been an important member of the EU peacekeeping operations – in the Balkans and in the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa. For years, Ukraine has been making its contributions to international security efforts and resources for peacekeeping operations, but now it needs support of its partners. Therefore, we rely on reciprocity and solidarity of the European Union.



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