By Jan Oberg
Let’s be cautiously optimistic; the meeting did not break down and a ceasefire document was signed. But that is a minimum in this extremely tense situation. One would have hoped for more than what seems to be a revision of the first Minsk agreement.
What are the next steps for this ceasefire agreement to lead to a peace plan, the two things being vitally different?
First, what no one talks about, it seems: A rather large UN peace-keeping and peace-making force with a unit of some 8.000-10.000 robust military from countries completely neutral to this conflict. The classical three legs: military, civil police and civil affairs, perhaps 20.000 in all.
Why the military component? Because the OSCE can monitor and report but it cannot enforce. And because the parties don’t trust each other. And why should this agreement be more durable than the first without it?
If on the 16th of February some shots are again fired by a madman on either side, hell will break lose and accusations fly. And if this agreement doesn’t hold either, we are close to a large-scale war and the U.S. will pour in its weapons (if not before).
What is needed is something like the Canadians in Croatia’s Eastern Slavonia in the early 1990s – no nonsense, Tudjman’s Croatian army didn’t dare challenge them.
The new Minsk agreement’s stipulated withdrawal and de-militarised zone if fine. But who is going to enforce that there is not even a water pistol in it? The UN – like on the border between Iraq and Kuwait at the time.
Has the world dropped the UN completely – beliving immaturely that it can do without its indisputable peace-keeping competence and the Charter’s peace norms?
Do these four leaders think they can manage the road to peace when all they knew so far was to build up tension, use bellicose language, apply sanctions and pour in weapons – petrol on the fire?
Would a UN mission be expensive? Well it would cost a fraction of a full-blown war and save thousands of people from dying. Studies show that where the UN has been involved there is less casualties.
Second – the world community must help them move from ceasefire to peace. Peace is about seeing another future – the result of a huge brainstorm, a vision of something everybody can feel is better for them than continuing the present.
It is vision, a science and an art – and it is hugely complex – and must take in all parties, also those not at the Minsk table: the US, other NATO countries, the militaries in Donbass and – essentially important – the citizens living (and suffering) there.
No future peace will hold if – like in former Yugoslavia and Syria and everywhere else – politicians believe that they know best without consulting the people who live in the conflict zone and shall live also with a future peace agreement.
Such undemocratic peace is no peace.
It would be good if someone somewhere would learn just a little from the past.
Third, we need a new type of negotiations. Minsk was the negation of best practices of mediation and negotiation: huge press attendance, huge cold palace with no human dimension, far too much formality, far too big negotiation hall and an absurdly big table at which no one can feel close to anyone else but must shout or use microphones.
No mediator/facilitator – don’t tell us that President Lukashenko is a mediator, please - no brainstorms, no ideas on whiteboards or papers along the walls with ideas on how to solve the conflict.
Add to that: Wrong time – you don’t start at 9PM with a series of top politicians who already have an inhuman schedule and continue through the night until probably no one knew what they were thinking or saying.
No, you meet over several days open-ended, get informal with each other, eat and drink together, begin to behave as humans and not as representatives – and you meet far away in a dacha with a park where you can relax, have one-on-one dialogues etc. and take breaks. And you stay there for as long as it is needed – and until the press has left, tired of waiting.
And why in Minsk of all places on earth? Did no other government see the opportunity to host this – Finland, Malaysia, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, Switzerland, the Seychelles, South Africa – there are many neutral grounds for this conflict.
In summary, you do professional peace work in about all other ways than the method applied in Minsk.
But then again – while all the people present there have advisers on a lot of issues and security officials around them ad libitum – hardly any of them has a single advisor on conflict-resolution, mediation, reconciliation, forgiveness or peace-making, i.e. in all the human dimensions of peace-making and post-war development.
And that is probably a reason as good as any that the world looks like it does: Huge human and other resources pour into Realpolitik, war and weapons – close to Zero are invested in peace.
The assumption seems to be that by managing well military security we get peace – but that is a proven illusion as we have seen also in this Ukraine conflict.
Instead if we did conflict-management much better and professionally, we would get both peace and security.