Over the recent year the idea of deploying an UN peacekeeping operation in the NGCA gained more attention as on 5 September 2017 the Russian Federation presented to the UN Security Council a draft resolution “on the establishment of a United Nations Support Mission to Protect the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE SMM) in Southeast Ukraine”.[1] The draft resolution proposes “to establish for a period of six months, following the complete disengagement of forces and equipment from the de facto line of contact, a United Nations Support Mission to Protect OSCE SMM in Southeast Ukraine” … “mandated exclusively to ensure the security of the OSCE SMM”.

The proposal of such format of a UNPKO was perceived by Ukraine and its Western partners as an attempt to “cement and legitimize Moscow’s de-facto control over a significant part of the Donets Basin (Donbas) region”[2] and thus unacceptable. However, the appearance of the UNPKO project on the UNSC forum presented an opportunity for dialogue and for exploring possibilities of reintegration of separatists’-controlled territories into Ukraine with the facilitation of peacekeepers, which in turn should not be seen as an end-goal but a starting point for implementing political aspects of subsequent agreements.

Since then, negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian parties have moved further in that direction with clear linkages between an eventual peace keeping mission and elections as important mile-stones in the political process to reintegrate the NGCAs. “So the proposal that we put forward last summer was to have a UN-mandated peacekeeping force that would be able to provide security in the area if the Russians were to withdraw. That would create a secure environment, and in that environment it would create the conditions where Ukraine could implement political steps required by the Minsk Agreements. And then once that’s completed, you would have elections, local elections, and the territory would then be restored to Ukraine. So we see it largely as an implementation mechanism or a transmission mechanism, getting from the current situation to one where the territory is restored to Ukrainian control and the Minsk Agreement is fully implemented.” Kurt Volker Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations: Telephonic Briefing, US State Department, 29 January 2018.

There are several considerations that Ukrainian stakeholders should make when it comes to these steps and the success that is expected as a result.

Firstly, a peace-keeping mission may - or may not consolidate a conflict. It has the potential to both address imminent security needs but also, increase or reignite tensions that may not geographically play out along the contact line. The conflict plays out on a specific, demarked territory but it can be said that the conflict is not about territory per se but a more fluent, transversal and overarching dominion of financial, political and to a certain extent cultural aspects that are somewhat fluent between the Ukraine, Russia and other countries in the region. Therefore, the conflict can be contained in the NGCA and prevented from escalating affecting peoples every day lives but the conflict may not be solved on the NGCA.

Second, semantics and narratives used to describe various processes has somehow diluted the actual steps and actions by a re-branding or re-packaging that resemble legitimate processes but are far from it. Describing the annexation of Crimea is such an example whereby “annexation”, “occupation” and “revolution” were used to describe the same events. Referring to international agreements, obligations and signed treaties, it is a non-starter to shape the narrative in such a way that it distort and confuses certain processes with others. It is therefore important for Ukrainan stakeholders not to focus on creating counter-narratives, since these are constructed in relation to the narrative created with the intention to mislead. A counter-narrative may therefore be seen as another extreme, on the opposite side. Therefore, it is important to tie actions and events to commitments, obligations and terminology of national- or international legal or moral systems of obligations. For example, real or fake election observation both ends with election observation. It is important not to label fake election observation as election observation in the first place since it does not need the necessary conditions to be considered election observation. Ukrainian stakeholders should be mindful of this and work towards a forging a more coherent approach.

Thirdly, previous agreements should be revived and placed more centrally in the current discussion especially whereby Russia agreed to act as a warrantor of Ukrainian territorial sovereignty through the nuclear disarmament according to the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances and the three identical political agreements signed at the OSCE conference in Budapest, Hungary on 5 December 1994, providing security assurances by its signatories relating to the accession of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons signed by three nuclear powers, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

The memorandum included security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

As a result of the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014, the Budapest troika along with other countries, noted that Russia breached one of its obligations vis-a-vis Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum. It was said however that the events in the South-east of Ukraine was a revolution by which a new state was in the process of emerging.

The circuit of action and reaction must eventually be transformed and led by a coherent political vision that has an inwards looking and outwards looking dimension since cause and effect, action and concequence is a predictable chain that hasn’t necessarily worked in favor of Ukrainian stakeholders in the midst of the developments during the last half of this decade, also creating internal chasms.

In a conflict context, where some people or some territories are conflict-affected, an adequate understanding of how the various elements, stages and entry points within the electoral cycle are distorted is crucial to plan and respond appropriately to requests for electoral support and clarify from the outset in terms of what is achievable and needed in the short-term, as well as identify what are the objectives of mid and longer-term initiatives. The electoral cycle cannot be fast-forwarded or implemented on top of conditions that are too fragile or unpredictable to hold the results that the elections are going to produce. However, elections should neither be planned – or not in lieu of the results they are meant to produce.

Adding to the complexity of the inter-connected set of stages in the electoral cycle is the fact that each phase, and the transition to the next, usually comes with its own set of conflict dynamics. This creates a third dimension on top of the electoral cycle that does not necessarily follow a clockwise direction, as the electoral cycle does.

Because of the multidimensional nature of electoral support, elections are an entry point to see crosscutting issues much clearer that are not necessarily always related to elections. An example is that flawed elections have allowed radical groups to gain a foothold in fragile state institutions. In contrast,

the involvement of a wide range of formal and informal regional and national stakeholders working in

close coordination would ideally counter-act these fragilities, complemented by community early warning networks, and jointly enhance the potential for positive progress, thereby preventing elections from being used for undemocratic goals.

A couple of concrete actions can be considered useful to look at more closely, irrespectively of the prospects for elections any time soon.

  • Strengthening post-election adjudication processes
  • National Elections Consultative Fora
  • Enforceable Codes of Conduct
  • Platforms for consensus-based institutional reform and implementation of reforms or new laws
  • Inter and intra institutional dialogue amongst Ukrainian stakeholders 

Stefan Coman and Victoria Florinder, ECES (European Centre for Electoral Support)

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[1] The draft resolution submitted by the Russian Federation to the UNSC, S/2017/754, 5 September 2017.

[2] Gowan R., Can the United Nations unite Ukraine?, Hudson Institute, February 2018, p. 3.