Doctor Adamski is the head of scientific projects in the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding. He says that methods of international settlement in the Donbas, the Crimean issue, and transformation in Russia are interconnected. A peacekeeping mission instead of OSCE in Ukraine could significantly accelerate peace in the Donbas, he says.
OSCE MEMBERS WHO AGREED TO COME TO UKRAINE WERE NOT COMING TO THE WAR
-Why did you end your engagement in the mission?
- I came with the first wave and worked here for six months, until late September [2014 - ed.]. However, I didn't extend my contract. Firstly, I had an interesting job in Warsaw; secondly, I didn't see any sense in working for the organization.
- Because nothing depended on you?
- Less than I thought, but I also believe that little depended even on the mission's leadership. The thing is that OSCE is based on the consensus principle. The Russian Federation has much leverage both upon the organization's functions and the monitoring mission. The consensus has to be reached not only in political, but also in administrative decisions, including those on sending a mission or prolonging its mandate. This happens even as Russia is a party to the conflict. Unfortunately, it's not reflected in the OSCE documents, and it participates in the Minsk process as a mediator. When a state is both a party to a conflict and a mediator, it makes no sense. You can imagine how this situation affected the mission's reports, their contents and language.
OSCE comprises countries with different political cultures and various visions of the reasons behind the Ukrainian conflict. It was not a surprise for me that Russian diplomacy started to criticize even the most politically censored reports by the OSCE and was extremely discontent when a slightest remark about Crimea was made in a report.
- Why was OSCE chosen for the Donbas, given that its operational principle had proved itself irrelevant in Ukrainian realities?
- When the situation in the Balkans, where the OSCE played an important role, got back to normal, there was no more sense for the OSCE to exist. However, in 2014 the world was shocked by killings during Maidan and with Russian occupation of Crimea. It was obvious that a reaction was needed, and the first idea was to revive the OSCE and send a special monitoring mission to Ukraine. However, you should understand that people who agreed to go to Ukraine were not going to the war. In addition, they knew pretty much nothing about Ukraine and Russia. When weird activities in the Donbas began, many inexperienced OSCE observers didn't see the signs of the Russian aggression.
In addition, many foreign OSCE observers from the very beginning had a distorted understanding of their tasks. They believed that, according to Ms. Mogherini, there were two equal narratives - Ukrainian from one side, and Russian or that of the local Donbas people on the other side. Their primary task was to provide those two narratives, as well as 'enhance a dialogue within Ukraine.' The chance to gather evidence of Russian sabotage in Ukraine and the presence of Russian soldiers in the Donbas was lost. However, I must say that it was not the mission's fault, but that of the OSCE structure. As well as of lack of political will by many Western nations and their governments for providing stronger support to Ukraine.
- OSCE had neither experience, nor resources for that?
- Obviously it didn't. Many of those who came had had experience of working in other missions. For instance, in Bosnia. There, they enhanced the dialogue between Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats. They remembered that the mission had to enhance the dialogue. They had the same intentions in Ukraine. Initially, they believed that the conflict in Ukraine is a civil conflict with two sides to it - the majority of the population of the state vs. residents of the eastern part, namely the Donbas. Only later did they realize that it was not an internal conflict. So in this case the mission's mandate was not relevant for the situation.
INTRODUCING UN PEACEKEEPING MISSION WOULD BE A SOLUTION
- The statistics is eloquent: Russians are second largest group in the mission in Ukraine. How do they communicate with foreigners, who have no opinion about the situation in the Donbas?
- Russians might also have various opinions. However, it is obvious that some of them, similar to some observers from other countries, serve a dual function by receiving tasks from their country's foreign ministry or secret services. In the case with Russians it's a huge problem because here we have people who personally or politically are responsible for the aggression. How can such Russian observers act? Obviously, through shaping 'ideas' of other observers in direction needed by Russia.
Just fancy a former Sicilian police officer or a Spanish teacher, who knew nothing about Ukraine before Maidan, coming to Ukraine. They take two-day preparation classes in Kyiv and then are sent to the Donbas. This is their first contact with the country. This Giuseppe or Pablo now is facing militants and locals. What kind of idea about the country can he get there? A contorted one. Because people who were pro-Ukrainian either had left or are afraid to speak their position. In addition, this employee has a good Russian friend, with whom he drinks beer. The Russian knows the local situation, of course, but he sees it differently. Thus, several weeks of such communication are enough for an inexperienced Western observer to pick up the Russian narrative.
- Does this explain the OSCE's 'blindness' in many issues, including when the mission does not record the militants' weapons or Russian troops next to the demarcation line?
- How can a Western observer tell regular Russian troops without insignia from Russian mercenaries, often hired from among Donbas locals? How can he tell whether someone speaking in Russian is speaking Russian Russian or Donbas Russian? He can only write down what he sees or hears. So, this is human factor here.
- Is it possible to have Russia suspended from the mission?
- Many OSCE members realized that Russia was a party to the conflict only after the Boeing tragedy. But it was too late to suspend Russia. It was possible, in theory, to be done in the very beginning - in spring 2014. However, both then and now, a political will of Western countries is needed. But Western politicians, even those who would personally want to put more pressure on Russia, have to take the Western society's opinion into account. While there antiwar sentiments are prevailing. My colleagues in Italy told me personally than sanctions against Russia could lead to the World War III, and they couldn't understand a different point of view. So, from political standpoint, putting more pressure on Russia is difficult. But it has to be done.
- Is it possible that OSCE is turned into a real peacekeeping mission?
- As long as the West pays much attention to the Minsk agreements' implementation, there's a need to work on their interpretation in order to introduce a UN peacekeeping unit to the Donbas. This should be done together with economic pressure upon Russia. I believe these are the only conditions under which Putin might start de-occupation of the Donbas.
Introduction of a UN peacekeeping unit would be a real solution. Second, an international military-civil administration should be introduced for two to three years. Only after that the elections could take place in the Donbas. When the population really sees that they are not threatened by militants, only then we will be able to see how many supporters of the "Russian world" are there in fact.
RUSSIAN SOCIETY IS CO-RESPONSIBLE FOR PUTIN'S CRIMES
- Speaking about cultivation of Ukraine's image in the world. How successful is this process?
- The image of Ukraine has got much better. Both due to Maidan and to the resistance against the Russian aggression. The efforts of the civil society have helped a lot. This considers first of all the image of Ukrainians as a European nation, willing to fight for freedom with arms.
Of course, there is disappointment with President Poroshenko and even more of that with Prime Minister Yatseniuk. But this disappointment is present within Ukrainians as well. … But there has to be understanding that this team, possibly, is the best in Ukraine's history despite its shortcomings. Second, some reforms have taken place, and you cannot ignore it. If these reforms were implemented by Yushchenko or Yanukovych, they would have been praised as a breakthrough. However, after Maidan, the society's expectations were so high, that now they are deemed insignificant.
- There is a myth in Ukraine that Russia's image has been damaged irrecoverably in the world. How dangerous is this thinking for Ukraine?
- This is not a myth. Russia has indeed fell in the world's esteem.
- Is this true for regular citizens, not just politicians?
- Most of Europeans never trusted Russia completely. After Crimea was occupied and the Donbas invaded, Russia's image has fallen sharply in the West, polls show. No one expected it would opt for open aggression. Another disappointment was that very few Russians publicly condemned the annexation of Crimea. Those who keep silence, they become accomplices in Putin's crimes and those of his cronies. If earlier we had been thinking that Russians are blinded by propaganda, now we also see that a large part of the Russian population is responsible for [what happened in] the Donbas and Crimea.
Russian opposition is functioning in hyper-difficult conditions. It is very hard for them in terms of ethics, because they fight not only the system, but also the majority of their fellow citizens. I am really amazed with them.
- Can you forecast what would happen next in Ukraine in upcoming years?
- The issue of Crimea will definitely come up when Putin is no longer president. Every following Russian government will try to put the blame on Putin… I think there will be no direct return of Crimea to Ukraine, but some formulations to partly return it within Ukrainian sovereignty would be found. This is a 10-12 year forecast.
The issue of the Donbas will depend on the internal situation in Russia: how long the sanctions last and oil and gas prices fall. Russia will try to solve the situation with the Donbas, but under conditions that are unacceptable for Ukraine. As long as Putin's regime acts as it does now, the situation in the Donbas will develop similarly to that in Transnistria. But if the financial crisis in Russia gets worse and the sanctions last, the Donbas crisis might end with a compromise.
Olha Skorokhod, Censor.NET