The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine must be brought to an end, said U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker. More than ten thousand people have been killed and two million more have been displaced since Russian-led forces attempted to take over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Over the past several months, the U.S. has been deeply engaged in figuring out ways to implement the Minsk agreements which laid out a path for the parties to end the conflict.
The problem has been a stalemate, said Mr. Volker, with the Russian side saying the Ukrainians are not implementing the political steps required under Minsk, and the Ukrainians saying that with the continuing violence, the ceasefire violations and the occupation of the territory, they cannot physically do so.
Special Representative Volker said there are two key building blocks to a possible resolution which the U.S. is exploring, along with the countries in the so-called Normandy process – Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine. The first is that Russia says it supports the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty through the Minsk agreements. The second is the proposal the Russians made in September for a UN peacekeeping force in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian proposal was to deploy UN peacekeepers only on the line of conflict and only to protect the OSCE monitors. Mr. Volker said the Russian initiative must be developed further in order for a peacekeeping force to be effective: “It would really need to control the entire contested area, to be responsible for the cantonment and the monitoring of heavy weapons, and to control the Ukrainian side of the Ukraine-Russia border.”
If the peacekeeping force could truly oversee security in the territory, Mr. Volker said, “that would be a way forward to then get back on track with Minsk implementation, which is the objective.”
The Russians seem to be exploring the option of such a force. But it does not mean they have come to a decision, said Mr. Volker. “If they want to get out [of eastern Ukraine]…We would be happy to help. We want to see this resolved.” What stands, he added, are the U.S. objectives regarding Ukraine: “the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and the safety and security of all Ukrainian citizens regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion.”