Conflict resolution in Donbas: there has to be some sort of dialogue with the people who are causing the problem

Three military experts with extensive peacekeeping experience talk to Andiry Kulykov about chances for peace in Ukraine’s Donbas region that is torn by war. Part 2 of 2
Conflict resolution in Donbas: there has to be some sort of dialogue with the people who are causing the problem

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Ukraine Calling. I’m Oksana Smerechuk for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv and we’re bringing you our feature interview followed by some new music from Ukraine.

And in our interview, we continue with the second part of the conversation on conflict resolution in the Donbas. Andriy Kulykov, who you may know as the Head of the Board of Hromadske Radio, hosted three military experts who were visiting Ukraine. All three of them have extensive peacekeeping experience. General Sir Rupert Smith, expert on peacekeeping operations and security, Sir William Jeffrey, expert on post-conflict policing and DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) with a focus on Northern Ireland; and George Anderson, an expert on political reintegration and decentralisation. Here is the second part of the interview.


Kulykov: What mandate will a peace-keeping mission have, or might have? Or what mandate is feasible for Ukraine? What is a likely size of the mission, and who would be the contributing states? Or who might be, or who should be the contributing states?

Smith: The size of the mission will be dependent upon the agreement, and the confidence in the agreement. Then you have to decide, if you’re going to deploy another group of people into this area, and what their purpose is. Are they merely to observe and report? Or are they at any risk, in which case, should they be able to defend themselves? Or are they to actually make the agreement happen? Now those are three stages of this thing and involve a decision of principle as to what armed forces to achieve. That will be needed to be done in the agreement.

Kulykov: How far removed from the conflict area should the contributing states be? For instance, I’ve heard that Canada is now discussing sending troops to Mali in Africa.

Anderson: I’ve heard that too. But in the Ukrainian context – Canada is a member of NATO – so would it be acceptable to have countries which are part of NATO providing troops for peacekeepers? That’s a political decision. There could be a balance. Some NATO countries might be accepted in exchange for some other countries more or less on the other side, if I could put it that way.  But it could be decided that no, we need to have countries that really have very little to do with this issue.

Kulykov: What will happen to current administrations and people who work for current administrations in the non-government controlled areas? Or what happened to them in different countries where you were part of the settlement process?

Anderson: I think what we can say is, that there are people that have been involved in the current administration in the occupied areas which are playing very different roles. For example, if somebody is a nurse in a hospital, or a very low-level clerk, that’s a very different kind of individual than somebody who’s been one of the leaders, or involved in the security apparatus in a very significant way. This is the sort of issue that will need to be broken down into its constituent pieces and presumably, the way these individuals will be treated will vary according to the kinds roles they played.

But again, to come back to what Bill said, which is that one should avoid an approach which is vindictive and punishing. Try to minimize the extent to which, or at least be very reasonable, in terms of the extent to which you’re excluding people. Maybe redirect some people to other parts of the administration and say, ‘You can’t work in this area any longer.’ A big part of what has to be done is to accommodate and bring people back in and to make them feel comfortable once again being part of the Ukrainian family.

Kulykov: I think I have the feeling that this question was particularly referring to some sort of punishment which may follow for these people. But I would like to ask you to extrapolate or to answer my personal question, which stems from this. How far removed or, on the other hand, how deeply involved in the future political process, I mean, in terms of elections and local government, should the people who served in local administrations in the non-government controlled areas be? Any experience from other countries?

Smith: If you look at the history of the countries that were part of the Soviet sphere in Eastern Europe, they all went through what they called these lustration exercises. And they varied a great deal in terms of how extensive it was. Czechoslovakia was probably the most rigorous. But certain people were excluded from working in government, or presenting themselves for public office. These are issues of judgement, but I would expect there would be some implications for some people who’d been involved in the current regime in the Occupied territories.

Jeffrey: In other areas, which have not been Occupied territories as such, a similar issue arises in relation to those who were part of the insurgency. But the Northern Ireland experience, and the experience in Columbia as well, although it’s different in character, is that part of the settlement is that a place in found in political life for those, at least the political representatives of those, who have been part of the insurgency.

Kulykov: I think that we also have a very interesting example of Nicaragua, which we now tend to forget, where although the Sandinistas have effectively won, the Contras were allowed to take part in democratic elections. And although the Sandinistas won the first election, the next election brought victory to the Contras. And then it changed again. How relevant is this to the Ukrainian, or European experience?

Jeffrey: It has some relevance, I think. There’s no easy answer to any of this. And the recent Columbian experience, for example, which was intended to provide a political path for FARC, I wouldn’t say it backfired, but it’s certainly the case that in the recent elections in Columbia, FARC’s political representatives, were remarkably unsuccessful. I think the main point is that a peace deal can be capable of accommodating as an essential element, a political role for those who have been combatants in the past.

Kulykov: Sometimes Ukrainians ask very straight-forward questions to which there are no straight-forward answers. Now I think we go to such a question. Who will fund the restoration of Donbas?

(silence and chuckling)

Kulykov: No comment?

Jeffrey: I think we know who will be expected to.

Kulykov: Alright. How would people’s civil rights be observed? Is it only the responsibility of the local administration, or national government, or is there a place for an international mission in this as well?

Smith: We’ll go back to two things we’ve already said. The nature of the agreement that is being put into effect, and in particular, the transitional justice arrangements that get you from A to B in this journey. The more its done correctly by the people who are going to do it, or the organizations or institutions that are going to do this in the future, as soon as possible, the better. Putting in an international body to do these things and then replace it by something only delays the process from beginning, let alone developing.

Anderson: I would just add on this that Ukraine is party to a whole number of international conventions on human rights, as well as having human rights provisions within its domestic constitution and what have you. Really, it’s a case of respecting those provisions that Ukraine has already committed itself to.

Kulykov: To your mind, how are the Western partners of Ukraine prepared to control the Ukrainian authorities in keeping and observing those human rights, or will they say, “well this is Ukraine, they are basically in their right.”

Anderson: It’s possible that one of the mechanisms that could be introduced into a case like this would be international observers and certainly there’s experience of that within Europe, with the organizations that exist within Europe. They will not assume the powers of the sovereign country, they will be reporting, monitoring, etc.

Jeffrey: The best guarantor of human and civil rights is an agreement that protects them, and national institutions that operate legally and consistently with that.

Anderson: But a strong message from the Ukrainian government that understands its commitments in this area could be a very powerful communication with the populations that might have concerns.

Kulykov: Alright, again, proceeding from your experience in other countries, what will be the status of this territory of the non-government controlled areas? How reliable is decentralization? And which documents will fix this? Were there cases in other countries where the conflict inside, if they were territorial, got a special level of autonomy within the state? Where there constitutional arrangements changed as a result of the settlement process?

Anderson: Any number of cases internationally, some of them following conflicts, like the Province of Aceh in Indonesia. There was a very bloody conflict there, but eventually it led to an agreement in Aceh has a particular status within Indonesia. In north eastern India there have been a number of conflicts which led to creating special states that resolved the issue. And there have been arrangements out of peaceful situations such as South Tyrol in northern Italy, the Aland Islands in Finland, there are a number of models for this type of thing. And certainly, a central issue when you look at the negotiations in Cyprus, they’re talking about a bi-zonal structure, where the Turks and the Greeks would have very large elements of autonomy as well as a common government. So, these things exist, but the issue for Ukraine is to what extent would there be a real demand in interest in having some particular arrangements for the Donbas area, or the so-called ‘particular districts’ within the Donbas area.

Kulykov: Now a specific question. I think that our British participants have a very good knowledge of this process: how can disarmament of a population be conducted peacefully? Well maybe, in your case, not of the population but still you have in Northern Ireland a huge experience of decommissioning weapons.

Jeffrey: It was a huge issue, as you say, in Northern Ireland, and it held up the implementing of the 1998 agreement, for almost ten years. The problem being that the IRA was very reluctant to give up arms. The agreement was clear about the commitment that the political parties were making to decommissioning within two years, including the Sinn Fein, which represents the IRA, but it didn’t commit the armed organizations themselves. That meant there was a long period of further negotiations before arms could be put beyond use. And this held up the establishment of political institutions, because Unionists were reluctant to sit in government with representatives of an organization that was still fully armed. So, it can be a very problematic issue. And one of the things that one can learn from that is, to the extent that it is possible, and it may not be, it’s wise to be clear in any peace agreement, exactly how this issue is going to be dealt with.

Kulykov: General, from your experience how can the disarmament of peaceful residents be conducted, and is there a place for a peacekeeping mission in this?

Smith: The peacekeeping mission can become involved in the collection of weapons, the certification that this force isn’t there, doesn’t have its weapons or whatever is required, I mean yes. But this requires this fundamental agreement to start with.

Kulykov: My last question is, again from myself, and it also leans on the Northern Ireland experience. In Ukraine we often hear the statement that you don’t negotiate with terrorists. Now, not putting this stamp of terrorist to any part, any participants in the Northern Ireland conflict, but I think that it was a very interesting and useful mechanism whereby some armed groups that had their political wings which could be involved in the negotiation process, thus bypassing the need to talk to those who had arms directly. What can you say, any other experiences in other countries? And how workable was this?

Jeffrey: I agree with you that the existence of a political wing and political representatives who are already taking part in elections is an advantage. It is still necessary to be clear about the terms in which they can be involved in discussions about a future peace settlement. But in my view, the settlement we eventually reached in Northern Ireland is much the stronger for having had Sinn Féin as the political representatives of the IRA involved in its negotiation.

Anderson: But there are cases, for example in the island of Mindanao in southern Philippines; the Philippine government worked directly with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. There was no fig leaf about a political organization – these were the rebels. The same with Aceh; the Indonesian people were dealing directly with the rebels. And some of the issues you’re talking about, like getting people to lay down their arms, you really have to have a way of engaging the people who have the arms one way or another. I mean maybe there’s a fig leaf, maybe there isn’t, but you do have to engage those people if they’re going to comply with that part of an agreement – come to that kind of agreement and then comply with it.

Jeffrey: I think having said that it is a very emotionally charged and difficult issue because the terrorists have caused great pain, great harm, great damage, and suffering. And the simple statement ‘we mustn’t negotiate with terrorists’ is a powerful one for that reason. I think nevertheless that eventually, there has to be, however indirectly, some sort of dialogue with the people who are causing the problem.

Anderson: And that doesn’t mean they’re absolved of everything they’ve done.

Jeffrey: No not at all.

Anderson: And, so, one of the issues that does arise, which is an issue of how to go into the agreement, is how will things like past crimes be dealt with?

Kulykov: General Smith, when you were commanding and taking part in peacekeeping missions, when there was a need to assess the situation on the ground and apply certain measures or to resort to some actions, who had the right of the ultimate decision? The military or the international officials? And how was this solved?

Smith: Well, it depends on the circumstances. There are three cases in the 1990’s when I was in the UN, I was a General in Northern Ireland, and in NATO. In each case, there is a political authority to which I am answerable: The Security Council, the North Atlantic Council in the case of NATO, and my own government in the case of Northern Ireland. And it’s here that, I said it at the beginning, it’s helpful to distinguish between those things to do with the conflict – the actual acts of fighting and so forth, and those to do with the confrontation, the political underpinning of the whole business that you’re engaged in. Now as a General you stand with a foot on both of those issues. But if you analyze it that way, it becomes clear whether your weight is on the conflictual one or is this a confrontational matter. And you start to make the judgement accordingly.



Kulykov: Thank you very much gentlemen.


The Orthodox Easter is coming, and hopefully, spring. Here’s a song that has a somewhat dreamy, mystical sound, by the Kyiv ethno-rock band Doox. They use a combination of modern and traditional instruments, ranging from a bass guitar to a sopilka, a wooden flute, a synthesizer to a drymba, which is known as a mouth harp, or a jews harp. The amazing vocals are by Yulia Maliarenko and Maksym Berezhniuk, the other musicians are Andriy Zaplotyns’kyi, Andriy Zholnach, Taras Peretiatko, and Oleksiy Bykov. The song is called Галочки. Enjoy! 


Next week we’ll be back with more commentary on events in Ukraine. We would be happy to receive any feedback from you. Write to us at: [email protected]. This is Oksana Smerechuk in Kyiv. Thanks so much for listening.