Despite multiple high-level meetings and a chain of ceasefire agreements, the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine is well into its fourth year.
On August 22, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko proposed yet another ceasefire to allow children in the Donbass region to go back to school without having to worry about shelling.
Russia, Germany, France, and the United States — the countries that are involved in the peace process — unanimously supported the plan.
The ceasefire was set to come into effect the next day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ visit to Ukraine. On August 24, he held talks in Kiev along with U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker.
Top U.S. officials met with President Poroshenko, Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.
“Secretary Mattis pledged continued U.S. support to build the capacity of Ukraine’s forces and applauded Ukraine’s commitment to modernizing its defense sector according to NATO standards,” Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White said in a statement.
The leaders also discussed challenges associated with Russia’s involvement in the conflict through the backing of the separatist forces in Donbass, something that Moscow continues to deny.
“We support you in the face of threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity, and international law and the international order, writ large,” Mr. Mattis told President Poroshenko during a press conference.
Commenting on the talks, the Ukrainian leader revealed that he discussed with the U.S. officials the possibility of deploying U.N. peacekeepers to the east of the country.
“Mr. Minister [Mattis] and I exchanged opinions on increasing international presence in Donbass. I am speaking of maybe deploying U.N. peacekeepers with a UN Security Council mandate,” he stated.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quick to respond to the idea.
“The initiatives voiced from the representatives of the Kiev regime are simply obvious attempts to once again twist the process of implementing Minsk-2 and to avoid fulfilling its obligations,” she said during a briefing on August 24.
In 2015, the parties involved in the Ukrainian conflict reached a ceasefire deal in Minsk, Belarus that could stop the fighting, but the situation remained tense, as it was violated on multiple occasions.
David Marples, Chair of the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, Canada, told The Globe Post that the U.N. peacekeepers could not hurt the situation.
“The OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] does not have enough resources to monitor the ceasefire, which clearly isn’t working. A mission would help Ukraine rather than the separatists, who have been the ones to exploit the loopholes of the Minsk Accords,” he noted.
However, P. J. Crowley, a Professor of Practice and Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at The George Washington University, told The Globe Post that the U.N. peacekeeping mission proposal was unlikely to be implemented.
“Sending a U.N. peacekeeping force anywhere requires the approval of the Security Council. Russia is not going to agree to do that,” he said.
Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and can veto any resolutions assigning peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine.
Apart from the international involvement, the U.S. and Ukraine are still discussing the possibility of a broader military cooperation. During the press conference in Kiev, Mr. Mattis said Washington was “actively reviewing” the idea of supplying Ukraine with defensive lethal weapons requested by President Poroshenko months ago.
“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening,” Mr. Mattis stated.
Mr. Crowley, who served as the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said the U.S. is committed to helping Ukraine defend itself.
“As its military improves its performance, we should equip it with more significant capabilities, but the two go hand in hand,” he noted.
Moscow has been strongly opposing the idea of lethal arms deliveries to Ukraine. Earlier in August, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov claimed such a move would be destabilizing.
Mr. Marples said the Ukrainian Army is currently “strong enough on paper” to recapture the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk if Russian aid to the separatists ends.
“Raising the stakes by sending lethal weapons has no benefits other than to prompt Russia to send even more advanced weaponry into eastern Ukraine,” he said.
A better policy would be negotiations with Russia to reduce support for the separatists, Mr. Marples suggested. He said the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics impose a considerable burden on the Russian economy, that was hit by low oil prices and sanctions imposed by the West.
“There are few benefits to Russia since it no longer wishes to annex these regions, and the most logical way out of the impasse is the removal of the leaderships of the two so-called republics and the establishment of autonomous regions of Ukraine. The latter goal has been manifest in the leadership of Donetsk and Luhansk since late Soviet times,” Mr. Marples added.