Ambassador Volker spoke on Monday at the Center for the National Interest about defusing the Ukraine Crisis.
The Trump administration is seeking to intensify its involvement in the 2014 Minsk agreements in the hopes of bringing the military conflict in Ukraine to a close. To achieve that goal, Washington aspires to implement the agreements by championing a phased approach that would permit United Nations peacekeepers to patrol the Donbass region while Kiev would undertake a series of reforms to address the grievances of the local population.
“What we have proposed is for a U.N. mandated peacekeeping force to go in and replace Russian forces and the separatist entities and create a secure space for a period of time where you can have local elections, where amnesty would be granted, where special status is granted,” Amb. Kurt Volker, U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, said during a lunch meeting at the Center for the National Interest on Feb. 26. “At the end of that process, then the territory would be restored back to Ukraine.”
Volker said that he is happy with the United States’ position on the proposal. But he stressed that until now, there have been few tangible results. “We’ve been at this for about seven months, and I have to say that I’m very pleased with the positioning, but I am not pleased with the results because there are no results,” Volker said. He emphasized that what is transpiring in Ukraine is anything but a frozen conflict; rather, combat continues. Kiev loses a soldier about every third day, Volker noted.
The fundamental problem is that Moscow is skeptical of Washington and its intentions—as Volker acknowledges—particularly with regard to sanctions relief. However, the Trump Administration hopes to offer Russia relief for sanctions that are specifically related to the Minsk agreements. “Russia is going to be very skeptical about U.S. sanctions relief,” Volker said.
Moreover, there is no clear gain for Russia if it chooses to withdraw—only some of the sanctions would be lifted while Ukraine would continue to drift toward the West. Nor is the United States willing to rule out future NATO membership for Ukraine. Volker stated that Washington cannot dictate such matters to sovereign states.