Whilst the world’s attention is focussed on the glamorous football world cup in Russia, the dreary war in the East of Ukraine with daily acts of aggression and casualties is largely forgotten. The grim reality of the the conflict in Donbass is shocking. More casualties from land mines occur there than anywhere in the world, and this is in the heart of Europe. The Belgian football team play Japan next Monday in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, a few miles from the war zone in Donbass.
At the European Parliament yesterday, Rebecca Harms of the European Greens and Petras Austrevicius of the ALDE Group convened a conference to explore whether international peacekeepers or peace enforcers could be enlisted to help end the war in Donbass. The timing of the event was important, because it is essential to keep awareness of this active conflict in Europe on the Brussels agenda, and remind EU politicians and decision makers of the continued need for EU solidarity on the sanctions against Russia and that that they should be ready to escalate and increase these if necessary.
For years, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed a UN led peacekeeping mission in Eastern Ukraine as an important instrument to achieving a lasting peace settlement. Last autumn Russian President Vladimir Putin also suggested a limited peacekeeping mission as one element towards a settlement. Clearly the conflict and peace cannot be won militarily, so strategic patience and the need for tough diplomacy, including sanctions and political exclusion from international institutions for Russia, such as the G7, are essential in maintaining the pressure on the Kremlin to chose a peaceful path.
At the same time, the Ukrainian government must do better to win the hearts and minds of Ukrainian citizens on both sides of the contact line. One way to achieve this would be to pay pensions to Ukrainian citizens no matter where they reside. Currently the government in effect excludes most pensioners in the currently occupied territories through deliberate administrative barriers from being able to receive a pension, which is their legal right. They can be paid into Ukrainian bank accounts in local currency in government controlled territory with out the need to register as an IDP. They should be paid to Ukrainians who qualify for pensions without further and unnecessary administrative barriers. For those who are too ill or frail to make the often arduous journey across the contact line, a power of attorney should be granted for family members to be able to collect on their behalf.
Before the electoral cycle starting in March 2019 he Government needs to reform Ukraine’s electoral law, and start to respect the democratic rights of citizens by making sure IDPs have the same voting rights as all Ukrainians. It’s never to soon to work in peace building, even if may not bear immediate fruit.
Improvements are also needed for access to healthcare and to ease the difficulties of crossing the line of contact which are currently running at 1.1 million per month. To date the assistance at the contact line crossing points in the form of sanitation, shelter from both intense heat in summer and plummeting temperatures in winter and medical provision for the thousands waiting in line has been provided by humanitarian actors, like the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation Humanitarian Aid Center, rather than the government caring for its own citizens. This should change, and the government should take up responsibility for a greater share of the burden.