Russia/Ukraine politics: Quick View - Still no conclusion on Donbas, despite US-Russia meeting

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Russia, Ukraine


On January 26th the US special representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and a Kremlin aide, Vladislav Surkov, held their fourth meeting in Dubai. One of the main discussion points was the modalities of a peacekeeping mission being deployed to the separatist-held Donbas region.


This meeting took place against a backdrop of challenges, which many presumed would hinder progress. The US had announced that it would provide lethal defence assistance to Ukraine in December; Russia withdrew from the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC), an international institution monitoring the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, in December; the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament) passed a controversial re-integration law, which names Russia as an aggressor state, in January; and on January 29th the US introduced new sanctions against individuals and entities in eastern Ukraine and Russia.

However, both sides viewed the meeting as more constructive than their previous meeting in November. Although full details of the discussion are not public, Mr Surkov highlighted that a new "quite feasible ... at least at first glance" suggestion was made for a phased deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in co-ordination with the implementation of the political points of the Minsk II agreement.

The mandate of a potential UN peacekeeping mission has been a sticking point since the Russians announced their own proposal in September 2017. Their proposal would see a peacekeeping force as primarily providing protection for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. At first this was to be only along the contact line, but Russia modified its position to cover the whole Donbas territory. Russia's main priority is that the peacekeeping mission does not affect Ukraine's obligations to implement the Minsk II agreement and does not signify a UN takeover of the disputed territory.

The US has said that the political steps of Minsk cannot be implemented until there is a secure environment in which to do so. Therefore, the peacekeeping mission must have a stronger mandate that would facilitate a secure environment in which Russian forces can be withdrawn and the political steps outlined in Minsk II, such as elections, can then be implemented. The recent meeting appears to be an attempt towards finding a compromise.

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