According to the 2018 Global Peace Index (GPI), which measures the relative position of nations’ peacefulness, Ukraine is the lowest-ranked European country.
The GPI ranks it as 152 out of 163 independent states, followed by Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia. Other European countries, such as Iceland, Austria, Portugal, Denmark, and Germany are the most peaceful. However, Europe as the world’s most peaceful region, recorded a deterioration for the third straight year, most notably in the intensity of internal conflict and relations with neighbouring countries.
The main reason for Ukraine‘s low score is the ongoing conflict in the country‘s eastern Donbass region. In 2014, Russia began supporting an insurgency of pro-Russian separatists in the region and today, a large part of the Donbass remains under the control of separatists who regularly trade artillery volleys and small arms fire with Ukrainian troops along a 500-kilometre “contact line”. More than 13,000 people have been killed there since 2014 and the casualties still continue as the war in the Donbass is now in its fifth year with no end in sight.
Many have grown weary of the war. Key figures in the West have been pushing for peace. Several peace initiatives have taken place but have largely failed. Numerous cease-fires have been implemented and quickly violated by both sides.
Last week, the liberal parliamentary fraction of the German Free Democratic Party (FDP) presented a policy paper entitled “Peace in Ukraine Needs a New Impetus” whereby they proposed a strategy for resolving the conflict. The document was unanimously approved by the fraction´s representatives and now most likely will be submitted as a motion to the Bundestag’s Committee of Foreign Affairs.
The FDP’s paper is an attempt to reinvigorate the so-called ‘Minsk process’ a reference to peace talks in the Belarusian capital that took place in the early stages of the War in the Donbass.
In Minsk, intensive diplomatic talks involved two tracks – the OCSE chaired Trilateral Contact group and Normandy format. Both have only managed to localise and reduce the tensions for further armed confrontation, but they were unable to create the conditions for a durable and ‘just’ peace.
This did not stop the Minsk Agreements from becoming internationally accepted as the only approach to resolve the Donbas conflict. This status was reinforced by the 2015 UN Security Council Resolution 2202. The two warring factions, however, were utterly incapable of finding common ground on how to interpret the obligations of the accord, which would have brought an end to in the conflict. Despite the unambiguous commitment by Ukraine’s international partners and mediators to find a settlement under the Minsk agreement, the negotiations ground to a halt.
The German liberals claim they have found a formula to overcome the deadlock. During the presentation of the policy paper at the Bundestag on 8 May, FDP deputy Renata Alt indicated that the outcome of the Ukrainian presidential elections may give new momentum to the peace negotiations and Germany should play a crucial part.
FDP’s audience, so far, responded with curiosity and scepticism while recognizing the party’s efforts to remain open-minded. No one seems to believe that the initiative can bring peace to Ukraine – neither the Russians nor the insurgents seem ready for it. Yet, FDP’s pitch deserves a fair hearing.
The FDP see the main problem in the overall design flaws of the Minsk Agreements: the indistinct prioritisation of the measures, the absence of binding deadlines and consequences for non-implementation, both of which inherently contribute to the non-binding character of the Minsk Agreements.
However, the FDP considers the implementation of measures according to the Minsk Agreements indispensable for reaching a final peaceful settlement. The party has called upon the international community, Germany in particular, to more explicitly point out Russia’s active role in the conflict and not to dismiss the Kremlin’s responsibility to play a constructive role. The authors claim that Ukraine is also responsible for hampering direct dialogue with Russia.
The core of the proposed strategy is to amend the 2015 Minsk Action Package with a ‘complementary action plan’ that would create incentives for compliance: prioritisation of certain measures; a blueprint for gradual implementation of security and policy issues, including binding deadlines; and concrete consequences in case of non-implementation.
The FDP plan contains certain security and resilience measures, such as increasing the existing monitoring, border-surveillance, and police missions. It also envisions engaging the EU and NATO in ensuring the freedom of navigation in the Black and Azov seas as well as further assisting in the training of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to meet NATO standards.
The FDP believes that direct negotiations between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU in the UN Security Council are essential to the process. The paper also foresees the deployment of a UN-OCSE Joint peacekeeping mission but does not specify what instruments might be implemented. An extension or intensification of the current sanctions regime seems like a logical option although the paper’s main author, Alt, takes a view indicating that sanctions need to be avoided as they have not contributed to a peaceful settlement of the armed conflict.
The main risk is that the policies proposed by the FDP may result in another post-Soviet frozen confict developing along the same lines as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Moldova’s Transnistria region. All of these ended up being armed conflicts that ended via a cease-fire, whether de facto or de jure, but not a peace treaty.
Russia normally looks to freeze conflicts to retain at least some of the buffer zone that is central to its overall security strategy. The frozen conflict zones give Russia the local knowledge, influence, and circumstances to foment separatism and exploit it to its advantage.
The Kremlin has been using frozen conflicts to achieve global and regional objectives since the breakup of the Soviet Union. By bringing the fighting to an end on their terms, Moscow effectively halts Western integration in the affected state and allows Russia to establish a forward presence for its armed forces.
It is becoming increasingly clear what the Russians have in mind for the Donbass – a federal-like land that remains within Ukraine but operates as a Russian political, and possibly military, protectorate with the ability to block major national and geopolitical moves and with significant independence to manage their own internal affairs, plus full amnesty for the insurgents.
In the Ukrainian context it would effectively mean that Ukraine will have to remain neutral with Russia holding a veto over the country’s moves towards EU and NATO membership. The alternative to this is an active or frozen armed conflict through which Russia will effectively pursue the same objectives.
The FDP’s position on this matter, which remains fundamental to the conflict – is unclear. It is not obvious that any peace plan may succeed before the parties agree as both will sabotage any peace plan or cease-fire if it does not achieve the strategic positioning they desire.
The West will need to pursue a policy of bringing Ukraine closer at the expense of furthering the confrontation with Moscow. The alternative will mean rebuilding Ukraine into a neutral country between the EU and Russia with increased Russian influence.
The FDP, and everyone who is interested in peace in Europe and Ukraine, will need to take a less ambiguous position on this.