International envoy sees chance for peace in Ukraine

‘NEW WIND’::A mass exchange of prisoners was a step in the right direction for Kiev and Moscow, creating mutual trust, an OSCE envoy said

Bloomberg

Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 7

A “new wind blowing in Kiev” under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is opening up the chance of a breakthrough in the long-blocked peace process in the nation, a top international envoy said.

The mass exchange of prisoners arranged by Russia and Ukraine on Saturday after lengthy negotiations is an “extremely important step in this direction,” Martin Sajdik, a special representative to Ukraine of the 57-member Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe, which has monitored the conflict on the ground, said in a phone interview.

“It helps to create and increase mutual trust,” he added.

Thirty-five Ukrainians, including 24 sailors detained last year in a naval clash with Russia off the coast of the Crimea Peninsula annexed by the Kremlin, arrived home on Saturday from Moscow.

Ukraine also released 35 prisoners, who returned to Russia.

The agreement was a boost for Zelenskyy, who has prioritized the safe return to Ukraine of his compatriots since his landslide election in April.

A summit of leaders from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine is due to take place later this month in a bid to put back on track the stalled 2015 Minsk peace accord.

That would be the first time since 2016 that leaders of the four nations have met to discuss efforts to resolve the conflict, which has killed more than 13,000 people.

Sajdik in December last year presented a proposal for a five-year international peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

It envisages the UN and the OSCE running a joint mission with elements of the military, police and civilians, as well as a reconstruction organization set up by the EU.

While Russia responded coolly to his initiative, Sajdik said he remained confident it could form the basis for an agreement.

A separate proposal by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made when he was minister of foreign affairs, which would tie autonomous status for Donbas to OSCE endorsement of local elections there, could also be “helpful” to resolving the deadlock, he said.

At the heart of the dispute is the Kremlin’s desire to use the broad autonomy foreseen under the Minsk deal to continue to influence the Donbas, an idea that Kiev rejects.

A new ceasefire declared in July is “going pretty well,” despite violations that have accelerated this month, Sajdik said.

Next year could see the local elections held, unlocking the way forward for Donbas to get the autonomy promised under the Minsk deal and Ukraine to regain control of the breakaway east’s border with Russia, he added.

However, this will depend on “compromises” by Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the envoy said.