By Jack Laurenson
Kyiv – Donbas peace talks will restart in Berlin on Monday June 11, as Germany prepares to host foreign ministers from from Ukraine, Russia, France and the United Kingdom in an effort to reinvigorate a stalled process to end the war that's now in its fourth year.
The simmering conflict in the far-east of Europe's biggest country has claimed at least 10,300 lives since 2014 when, following Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsular, Moscow-backed separatists launched a war of secession against Kyiv.
Confusion and political crisis in the wake of 2014's Euromaidan Revolution against Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych meant that Ukrainian forces were unable to hold or retake their territory.
Since then, Kyiv has pursued a strategy of containment and peace talks, relying heavily on the support of international allies, particularly in Europe.
In Berlin next week, the long-awaited approval of a United Nations peacekeeping mission will be top of the agenda with Ukraine and European allies insisting that blue helmets be deployed throughout the eastern, separatist region and close to Russia's border.
Kremlin officials are expected to continue resisting this idea, preferring that any peacekeeping force act only as security for humanitarian observers and limit its deployment to the “contact line” that currently divides the Luhansk and Donetsk regions from the rest of Ukraine.
Earlier this month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Masas reaffirmed his country's support for Ukraine as he visited Ukraine's front line.
"We will not leave you alone when it comes to resolving the conflict here in the east," he told reporters in the city of Mariupol, just 20 kilometers from the contact line. "We in Germany can't pretend that this isn't happening," he added.
Hopes for the talks are high, but previous negotiations in Minsk, Belarus – resulting in the Minsk Agreements – have not resulted a workable ceasefire for the region.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, has about 600 monitors patrolling 400 kilometers of contact line in Donbas. They report regular breaches of previous ceasefire agreements by both sides while Ukrainian media reports new casualties on a near daily basis.
In Kyiv's corridors of power, a United Nations peacekeeping force has strong support with officials who see it as an opportunity to enforce a lasting peace that can lead to a political resolution.
More broadly, as Ukraine has pivoted away from Russia its relationships with Germany and the European Union have strengthened considerably in recent years.
After demonstrating progress in the areas of political and judicial reform as well as economic liberalisation and deregulation, Ukraine has secured both a free trade agreement and visa-free regime with the EU.
The European bloc has also replaced Russia as Ukraine's largest trading partner while annual bilateral trade with Germany has passed $9.3 billion, increasing by 23 percent last year alone.
For comments or story ideas please contact the author of this report, UBJ Managing Editor Jack Laurenson, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted June 7, 2018.