In one of its earliest rulings in 1949, the International Court of Justice defined intervention as follows: “The Court can only regard the alleged right of intervention as the manifestation of a policy of force such as has, in the past, given rise to most serious abuses and such as cannot, whatever be the defects in international organization, find a place in international law…”

Stemming from the ICJ’s opinion on state intervention, the Ukrainian-Russian crisis and the direct military action of Russian forces taking control of Crimea are such examples of an application of the term. Russia has committed grave offenses against international law and norms, but Ukraine and the international political community have stalled on a consolidated plan to institute proactive measures for peacebuilding along the Eastern Ukrainian border.

Since 2014, there has been sporadic violence and repeated attempts at negotiation, but with no success resolving the confrontation. The 2015 Minsk Accords, following the first, highly unsuccessful Minsk Accords signed in September 2014, were the most compact set of agreements Russia and Ukraine had ever signed. The 13-point plan, however, hampered by vague language, could never be fully implemented by all the involved parties. And so, the world has seen a continuation of the bloodshed that has recently been spiked by an increase in casualties, the use of heavy weaponry, and more than 1,200 ceasefire violations during a single week in July 2018.

The Russian military intervention in Ukraine appears to be a situation with no end in sight, and the conflict’s status has been essentially unchanged since 2014. Most appallingly, even with the military, environmental, and economic catastrophe along the border, the Ukrainian government has seen fit to ignore these issues because of their upcoming domestic elections in March 2019.

Keeping in mind the past failures and shortcomings of the Ukrainian-Russian peace negotiations, The European Union, Ukraine, and Russia must establish a multilateral treaty confirming Ukrainian sovereignty within recognized territorial bounds and formally ending the conflict along the Eastern Ukrainian border.

A Brief History of the Animosity between Russia and Ukraine

Despite an emerging national identity in the later periods of the 19th century, Ukraine’s cultural and geographical presence was largely dismissed by the developed states of Russia and Austria. Since the early 1920s, diplomatic ties between Ukraine and Russia have further soured; in particular, when Soviet Russian forces stormed the country in 1921, a national enmity was created that remains to this day. Ukraine was further absorbed into the Soviet Union in the late 1940s after WWII, and did not separate into an independent state until the dissolution of the USSR, at the end of the Cold War, in 1991.

Fig. 1: Fighting in Ukraine
Source: The Economist

Russian influence in Ukraine is still very much apparent and visible in terms of the country’s demographics. When categorizing individual ethnic groups within Ukraine, the population is split into 77.8% Ukrainian, 17.3% Russian, and 4.9% other. Because most European countries are ethnically homogeneous, a populus with a minority group constituting almost ⅕ of the inhabitants is certainly an outlier to the general trend in the continent.

Relations between Russia and Ukrainian further deteriorated with the election of Viktor Yushchenko as the President of Ukraine in 2005. After there were widespread reports that the 2004 presidential elections had been rigged with a mix of electoral fraud and corruption for Viktor Yanukovych, protests and civil disobedience plagued the country. Activists both for and against this Orange Revolution were funded by Western governmental entities and Russian authorities. Eventually, there was a revote ordered by Ukraine’s Supreme Court, and Yushchenko received a clear victory of 52% against Yanukovych’s 44%.

Between the end of the Yushchenko administration and the beginning of the Russian intervention, the Ukrainian government had vastly shifted towards a more conservative side. In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych campaigned once again for the presidency and claimed victory through fair and free elections.  

After President Viktor Yanukovych began work that established closer ties to Russia and moved farther away from initiatives with the European Union, both pro-EU and pro-Russia sections of the state began to protest and created civil unrest, a period of events called Euromaidan. Following the country’s adoption of Anti-Protest Laws and riots in Kiev that left 98 dead, Ukraine held early national elections. When the incumbent was ousted and the new President, Poroshenko, was inaugurated, Putin prepared to annex Crimea by using the Russian naval base of Sevastopol. On March 16th of 2014, with the Russian military having entered Crimea, a referendum was held, asking the people living in Crimea whether they wished to be integrated into Russia. Two days afterwards, the self-proclaimed Republic of Crimea and Russia signed a treaty that would formally annex Crimea into the Russian Federation, an act met with international opposition and disbelief.

Unwillingness to Compromise

With the fifth anniversary of the conflict looming closer, the Eastern Ukrainian border is still filled with tension and no easy resolution is apparent. The border, a so-called 500 kilometer “contact-line,” is spotted heavily with landmines, and the disputed Donbas region is littered profusely with Russian separatist activity.

Compared to the public’s reaction when the Kremlin denied responsibility for pro-Russian forces shooting down a Malaysian airliner over the Eastern Ukrainian conflict area that killed all 298 people on board, publicity surrounding the conflict has died down in recent months. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian-Russian dispute is still a griping issue in Ukrainian affairs. For ordinary civilians, they just want an end. For the politicians, it is altogether another narrative; they wish for security and control to be prioritized over political differences, a policy Russia disagrees with profusely.

Accountability on Both Sides

Russia is responsible for creating this Eastern European mess. It must be made sure to be held accountable for its political actions. However, both Ukraine and Russia must be held responsible towards their military action in the Eastern border region.

One way to pressure Russia to come to the negotiating table and be cognizant of their faults is by pushing further economic sanctions toward Russia. While political theorists have lodged arguments against utilizing economic barriers for diplomatic gain, economic sanctions against Russia have proved to be more effective and faster to work than projected expectations. It is valid that the current Trump administration has been reluctant to adopt aggressive measures against the Russian Federation, but the nature of sanctions is that once imposed, they gradually exert greater and greater pressure on a country’s economy. It is even projected that additional sanctions could produce significant change within Russia.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian government has been far too relaxed and simple-minded in its observation of the discord. Many officials in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, accept the conflict single-mindedly as a conflict purely between two nation-states, Ukraine and Russia. The contrary is true. The Ukrainian government is currently fighting against two forces: pro-Russian Ukrainian residents and the Russian military. To say that the conflict is out of their dominion is a careless approach to addressing a bloody matter; more thought should be put to truly cease this crisis. Ukraine must recognize that although foreign intervention from Russia has occurred, the individuals the Ukrainian military are fighting against are inhabitants in contested Ukrainian territory, who were legitimate citizens before the 2014 crisis. Ukrainian officials should consider residents of separatist-held areas full citizens: victims rather than perpetrators of the conflict. The Ukrainian government could facilitate access across the line of contact and ensure that those who live in the separatist republics avoid bureaucratic hassle and can receive government benefits.

The Ukrainian government ought to also provide aid to the Ukrainian people for damages that have occurred. This can be completed by reaching out to people on the other side of the line, addressing the humanitarian situation in Donbas, and initiating an inclusive national dialogue on what a necessary future settlement might look like.

Development of a Treaty

There must be a treaty ending the five-year long conflict, with inspiration both from the second Minsk Accords and the Normandy Format. Although Minsk II did a much more comprehensive job representing the interests of both the Ukrainian and Russian sides compared to Minsk I, it fell short on account of its lackluster details and collapsed plan of implementation.  

Minsk II is heavily structured around a general pathway for the conclusion of the conflict: a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the battlefield lines, a prisoner exchange programme, local elections, amnesty for all fighters involved, promise of humanitarian aid, and the social and economic reintegration of separatist territories. That alone is just not enough. The roadmap Minsk II is based upon must be more clear and well-defined, and the potential treaty needs to involve an agreement to end violence that is more absolute and thorough than a ceasefire.

With problems stemming both from Crimea and the Eastern Ukrainian border, the Ukrainian government must develop a game plan to prioritize the latter. To enforce Russian commitment, this requires aid and cooperation in the Normandy Format to bring together Ukraine and Russia together and have Germany and France, as representatives for the European Union, act as co-mediators.

Russian control of Crimea and the violence along Eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian and Russian militaries has not been resolved completely. The international political body is ultimately at fault for its detailed understanding of the conflict but lack of responsiveness and ignorance to the endless counts of human rights, arms, and war violations. Critics say that the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is one with no end in the near future, but the narrative is bound to quickly transform with increased attention and realization of mistakes made in the past due to inaction. From the failures of Minsk I and Minsk II, a multilateral treaty of a more complete and comprehensive set of propositions called Minsk III must be quickly established before Eastern European political affairs are complicated further by national elections and separatist and military violence.

Featured Image Source: Brookings Institution

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