21. Juni 2016

Long live mediation! The Ukrainian Conflict and the Attempts to Overcome the Deadlock

Renewing dialogue, rebuilding trust, restoring security is the leitmotiv of the German OSCE Chairmanship. However, dialogue, trust and security hardly fit into the scheme of the Ukrainian conflict.

A comment by Sophie Falsini


Mediation Before Mediation: A Lot of Open Questions

When does the mediation process start? Trying to understand the issue of mediation in a broader way, theoretically we may already define ‘mediation’ as the process during which parties come to the decision of who should speak and bring issues to the table. I say theoretically because in the case of Ukraine and Russia, despite their special relation based on a common past and economic interdependence, dialogue seems to be locked.

When it comes to the question of who should mediate, it is difficult to say whether states or international organizations are more suited to fulfill this duty. States are often interwoven in the conflict with their own national interests, which is almost impossible to neutralize. International organizations may be better suited for this, even though this is not always the case. The EU for instance became a conflict party when it proposed the Association Agreement to Ukraine and imposed sanctions on Russia. Regarding the OSCE on the other hand, it remains unclear whether its wide range of activities strengthens or weakens the organization’s potential. But then again Switzerland achieved during its OSCE Chairmanship major success due to the “double impartiality”. This may suggest that neutrality, ideological equidistance and readiness for change are the qualities a mediator should embody, no matter who it is.

Adapting to Developments: How the Ukrainian Conflict Changed the Practice of Mediation

Over the course of time, the nature of the conflict in Ukraine has changed. The OSCE´s role in crisis management developed and mediation today has become a complex and multilateral affair, in which states and organizations seek to join forces and set the basis for lasting peace. Where everything is pointing towards the need of a collective security architecture, mediation has to go beyond a trilateral approach and become multilateral, meaning “a modal form of peace-agreement, negotiation, monitoring and implementation”. The case of Ukraine led to the establishment of the Normandy Contact Group and to its possible expansion of a Normandy plus.

From the early start, the Minsk Agreements were never supposed to be the end of the process. They were rather designed to be just the beginning of it. The same applies to mediation. Mediation helps in the search of a common ground between parties. However, mediators alone cannot be the solution. The process is namely designed to be an active one, in which it is up to the parties to achieve a win-win situation. Yet with the deadlock following the cease-fires, both parties seem to have lost the willingness and the ability to compromise. An escalating conflict may hinder the EU’s engagement as well. Nevertheless, there is another actor which may help in such an impasse: civil society.


„Even though decisions are made by the elites, making the people comfortable with the concept increases the possibilities of success, as effective mediation needs to be done at every level.“


Civil Society Matters: Promoting the Change from Within

Civil society may be a track to normalization since unofficial contacts and meetings in the framework of national dialogue formats between groups help de-politicizing the conflict. We all are aware of the argument that disconnects Russia and Ukraine. Two states that are historically and demographically bound to each other. All this is depicted as a huge hindrance to the conflict’s resolution. But what if this demographic interdependence to Russia turns into a positive factor? What if “civic diplomacy” aiming at a peaceful conflict resolution, was the key to finding an informal and local forum for mediation? Apart from the OSCE initiatives like the Ukraine National Dialogue Project, Ukrainian civil society has proven to be very active, starting to replace the slightly broken governmental functions: The ‘Odessa Dialogue’ and the ‘Dignity Space’ projects organize roundtable discussions between different groups and facilitate dialogue. Therefore, the roots of Ukrainian and Russian civil society have to be understood, supported and fostered since these may become the defining trigger to change.  

First Issue to Understand: Why Ukrainians do not Believe in Mediation

Before asking someone to believe in what you do, you should provide a tangible explanation of what you are doing and why. “Ukrainians have no faith in mediation”, but only a few of those actually know what mediation is. A possible reason is in Ukraine mediation is not regulated by law, which means that the government hardly makes any effort to popularize the concept and that mediation centers in the country have a very hard time. Since Ukrainians seem to have very low esteem of their legal system and its functioning, this may not be the real problem after all. It is more likely that their lack of enthusiasm has to do with the decision-making structure of the country which seems to follow a top-down approach, rather than a bottom-up.

So, introducing mediation already in Russian and Ukrainian domestic practices and as component of legal education curriculums may be a useful step in order to improve its understanding and foster grassroots changes. Even though decisions are made by the elites, making the people comfortable with the concept increases the possibilities of success, as effective mediation needs to be done at every level.

A Two-Sided Approach to Trust: What is Missing from the German Motto

Being a mediator is not an easy assignment. First of all, it is necessary to bring the involved parties to the table, but also to understand the extent of the commitment. This aspect is particularly important and entails a great amount of responsibility, since at one point the mediator will have to abandon the stage and leave the parties translate words in action. This can only happen if the mediator is confident of the progress and experiences trust. Furthermore, it is vital that the parties decide to accept and recognize the mediator and the embodied role.

Both ways of appreciation rely on two abstract elements: The will to find a common solution and the capability of the mediator to understand the situation and the parties‘ will to stick to the forewritten path. Given the highly difficult task of assessing Russia’s and Ukraine’s willingness to resolve the conflict, most of the hopes lie in civic diplomacy and Germany’s ability to make its motto become true.


Interested in peace mediation? We think: It’s time you get involved. On July 5, 2016 Polis180 offers you the opportunity to make first-hand experiences during a one-day mediation training at the Federal Foreign Office. For further information and registration see: http://polis180.org/events/one-day-introduction-to-peace-mediation/

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: http://bit.ly/28L88kc.


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