BRUSSELS -- Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Russia's proposal to send UN peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine is "a Trojan horse" but that it would be worth trying to "reshape" the plan, since it presents the first opportunity in a long time to resolve the conflict.
Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin last month proposed deploying UN peacekeepers on the contact line separating the sides of the conflict -- a plan that swiftly drew criticism from both Kyiv and the West, in part because of concerns that deployment only along the front line would cement Russian control over separatist-held territory.
"In its current form, Putin's peacekeeping proposal is what I would call a Trojan horse; it is a nonstarter," Rasmussen, who headed NATO in 2009-14 and now advises Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on security issues, told a conference organized by the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Brussels on October 11.
Rasmussen added, however, that "we need to seize the moment and try to reshape it to put [Putin] to the test, because this is our first opening in years to actually end the conflict, so I think it would be a big mistake just to denounce his proposal."
"We should push for a robust mandate that seeks to protect civilians, protect infrastructure, and cover the entire territory of Donbas, not just the contact line. If we followed President Putin's proposal, we would just have what I'd call a UN-mandated frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine, and that would, of course, be unacceptable," said Rasmussen.
Following the initial criticism, Putin suggested that Russia is willing to consider a broader deployment.
Rasmussen also urged that a UN assessment team be sent to Ukraine ahead of any future peacekeeping force -- a move that wouldn't require consent from the UN Security Council, where Russia is a permanent member.
Speaking at the same Brussels conference, former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt criticized the EU over what he described as its lack of a security policy in Ukraine and other eastern neighbors of the bloc.
“The EU is in hibernation, Brussels is in complete hibernation on every security issue of the east of our continent, which is somewhat strange, to put it mildly -- to be slightly diplomatic,” Bildt said.
He said that both France and Germany have been active in trying to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. But he added that “it is different when you have all of the 28 or 27 [EU members] lining up and doing the same thing and mobilizing their resources, be that diplomatic, be that economic, be that securitywise. It makes a hell of a difference.”
Bildt served as Sweden’s top diplomat from 2006-14. He was a key initiator of the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative that seeks to promote economic integration and European values in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.