In 2016 a ‘helicopter perspective’ is necessary with a grand political solution, with regards to the Donbass, Crimea as well as NATO and EU as well as US relations to Russia.

Although there will hardly be any swift progress and a lot of frustration, we have to give peace a chance and make it the absolute priority over the next months.

Based on the 60 years of successful peace in Europe where cultural and border disputes have been mellowed by a peaceful referendum-and-reconciliation-approach, these are my 5 steps to achieving peace in Ukraine:

  1. A copy of the South Tyrol/Trentino Alto Adige Accord from 1971 for maximum autonomy in the Donbass region within Ukraine.
  2. True reconciliation and implementation of the Codes of Tolerance for all minorities in Ukraine.
  3. A Reconciliation Referendum for Crimea, as done by Germany and France in 1955 for the disputed Saarland. The people of Crimea should decide under UN/OSCE control whether to be within Ukraine of Russia.
  4. An integration of Russia in the EU-Ukraine-Trade-Agreement.
  5. A fresh dialogue and reset of NATO-Russia Relations.

Lessons from the Great War- We have to talk.

100 years ago World War 1 started. When we look back with the full knowledge of facts and background information about the main actors and states we may come to the conclusion that Europe could have avoided this major catastrophe of the 20th century with more sensitivity, knowledge of the opposing actors and endeavor to discuss and reconcile.

History has taught us a lesson: to endure a crisis, especially a deep and complex one, it is pivotal to involve all the actors concerned to find a common path for comprehensive solutions and far-reaching agreements.

Without a broader political settlement soon, new weapons will reach both sides and the battles will be more intense and bloody for everyone involved. It is easy to deliver sophisticated and large numbers of weapons in discreet ways to all sides. Ukraine will demand more military support in line with the UN Charter’s right to self-defense and there will be nations to provide that support.

During his annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on December 4th 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “Every nation has an inalienable sovereign right to determine its own development path, choose allies and political regimes, create an economy and ensure its security. Russia has always respected these rights and always will. This fully applies to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.“

We will protect the diversity of the world.

We will never enter the path of self-isolation, xenophobia, suspicion and the search for enemies.“

Our goal is to have as many equal partners as possible, both in the West and in the East. All this is evidence of weakness, while we are strong and confident.

We need as many open and controversial discussions as possible between Russia, NATO, the EU and the U.S. including Ukraine and the separatists. To exchange different points of views is the essence of democracy and the beginning of compromise. It will never be easy, but it has to be done and is worth a try.

To cancel the NATO-Russia-Council or other meetings out of frustration or as a tool of punishment for many months was counterproductive. Despite many state-banquets and vague speeches in the past years, real discussions were missing for too long. The long-time Western “no-talk no-meetings approach“ also neglecting the lessons learned in the months before World War I – after so many good books have been published in the year of the 100th anniversary of this European core drama.

The visit of Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande to Mr Putin in Moscow on February 5th 2015 was a wise first step to resume and not freeze contact. The success in Minsk today shows that hard talk is better than no talk.

EU-Russia-Ukraine Trade Relations

The Minsk II agreement wants to enhance EU-Russia-Ukraine trade relations. This has been a demand in our White Paper Ukraine proposal. The EU should finalize a EU-Ukraine-Russia-trade-agreement soon and place it higher on the agenda with a summit. “In the case of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, there was no dialogue at all. We were told that it was none of our business or, to put it simply, we were told where to go,“ Putin complained. According to advisers of Angela Merkel, there had been numerous discussions about it between her and Putin and talks by experts. The Russian side missed to add concrete proposals, told a EU negotiator involved. It was mismanaged.

Re-set NATO-Russia relations

The dialogue about a common security structure in Europe should start with fresh bi-monthly meetings of the NATO-Russia-Council in Moscow and NATO capitals to openly discuss all military issues and find solutions including NATO and Russia with several working groups established. The Munich Security Conference again showed a deep gap of understanding.

A high-ranking NATO-Russia-Summit should be held in Moscow in two months to openly discuss security issues. At this summit NATO and the Russian Federation should declare not to utilize their military capabilities against each other. They will not use their forces, equipment, active or non-active soldiers or allow those activities against each other.

Each year a NATO-Russia Summit will deliver a progress report.

A copy of the South Tyrolean/Trentino Alto Adige Accord and status from 1971 for an Autonomous Donbass Region within Ukraine

Using the best practice example of a resolved ethnic conflict in Europe, mainly caused by the change of borders in World War I and World War II, the South Tyrolean/Trentino Alto Adige Accord from 1971, signed by the Republic of Austria and the Italian Republic, based on a balanced compromise between central power and peripheral regions, could offer the best way out in Ukraine.

Historically and culturally tied to the Austrian-Germanic world, Italy’s Trentino Alto-Adige/South Tyrol sought a highly autonomous status within the Italian Republic and Constitution.

The process of deriving this status shows the value of reaching an agreement based on a high level of autonomy on political, economic and cultural issues.

Such status must be granted through codification within the central state’s body of law. This approach eased the institutional balance between the center and periphery, diffusing, in the medium-long term, potentially disruptive political unrest.

Trentino Alto-Adige was the bone of contention between the newborn Italian Republic and the Republic of Austria at the end of WWII. From the beginning of negotiations in 1947 until 1972, a series of agreements recognized equal rights to all citizens, despite their different language, as well as a balanced decentralization of administrative, legislative, executive and economic competences to be exercised autonomously over the regional territory.

This autonomy was strengthened over the decades, fostering the ties between the central state authority and the peripheral regional authority. Now the German-speakers live peacefully and happily within Italy and as citizens of the European Union.

Trentino Alto-Adige’s integration through decentralization process into the Italian national identity shows how a widely shared process and agreement in recognizing a high level of institutional autonomy would lead, in a medium-to-long term perspective, to constructive and balanced power sharing, stability and economic development.

Applied to the situation in Eastern Ukraine the following agreements could settle the conflict: The human rights of the Russian population in the Donbas are guaranteed to the same degree like for the Germans in South Tyrol/Trentino Alto Adige.

Under the current mistrust, time pressure and problems in too many details, we propose to copy this best practice in Europe and give the Russians as much autonomy and rights as the Republic of Italy gave the majority of the German population in South Tyrol as a frame agreement. The governments of the Republic of Austria and the Republic of Italy should provide the know-how and monitor the processes.

The status of an Autonomous Donbass Region will be integrated in the constitution of Ukraine and cannot be changed.

An international guarantee is given by signatory regional and international stakeholders (states including Belarus, Germany, Poland, France and Italy) and signed by Ukraine and Russia.

A standing Donbass committee is established with ambassadors from each country within the OSCE in Vienna with a special best-practice-team including Austria and Italy involved. This committee appoints ombudsmen for any complains, which cannot be avoided.

An annual progress report by the Donbass OSCE committee and the Kiev government presented by the OSCE and the Kiev government in parliament.

A reconciliation fund of € 3bn for the region, financed equally by the EU and the Russian Federation and utilized to build up infrastructure.

The establishment of round-tables in each city to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation, moderated by the OSCE.

The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the Donbass OSCE group, using best practices from South Africa, as more than 20 other countries have done so far. Reporting live on TV in Ukraine and Russia with an annual report.

Radical reforms to stimulate new jobs, especially for small businesses.

Free trade agreements negotiated by the Kiev government with the EU and the Russian Federation.

Special passports for visits – as done for the Oblast Kaliningrad and Poland – where residents can travel up to 60 kilometers without a visa and visit Russia and Ukraine.

The Autonomous Donbass Region stays within the state of Ukraine. Therefore no border is changed by force in Europe which is the key demand of the EU and the US and in line with international treaties and law.

To support the reconciliation process and start a fresh peaceful chapter, the separatists will lay down their governmental positions and declare the established local entities in the Donbass dissolved, as they have reached its purpose to protect the Russian culture and identity.

Further peace-making effort in the Donbass

A ceasefire is needed to stop the killing and suffering of the civilians. All conflict parties will withdraw heavy weapons to a line 50 kilometers away from the front-line agreed in Minsk II. All soldiers with Russian nationality will be called back home.

Kiev and Moscow declare again to respect and enhance both principles of the Charter of Paris from 1990 and the guarantee-declaration from Budapest of 1994 and to honor the territorial integrity of Ukraine and, in case of dispute, to peacefully look for a solution with the OSCE.

The European Union as well as other states, in a strict collaboration with the United Nations Security Council, could provide a peacekeeping force of around 20,000 soldiers/policemen, asking its members to become TCCs/PCCs. This force, operating under Chapter VI of the United Nations Chart, could:

– Monitor the complete cessation of hostilities implementing a former diplomatic agreement;

– Promoting a shared DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) of all armed non-state actors active within the region;

– Extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons

Promoting Reconciliation and Tolerance

For the Russian population in Ukraine and all other minorities, including Hungarians or Tatars, Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance will be implemented.

The Kiev government appoints a Minister for Tolerance and Reconciliation with sufficient staff and funding by the EU. He will promote respect towards all ethnic and religious minorities in Ukraine and reports annually to the parliament and the OSCE with an “Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance and Reconciliation Report.”

Within the context of reconciliation an amnesty committee will be established, like in South Africa, for people from all conflict parties.

Reconciliation Referendum for Crimea- like in Saarland

One best practice in Europe to solve a territorial and ethnic dispute was the arrangement between France and Germany about the disputed Saarland. Different agreements were reached from 1954 to 1957, including a referendum in 1955 about whether the region should stay with France, become a neutral European state or join the Federal Republic of Germany.

The OSCE, with the support of the UN, should organize a fresh Reconciliation Referendum for Crimea in three months with two options: A vote to stay within the Russian Federation or to leave it and become an autonomous region within Ukraine.

All parties may register and promote their vision for two months with the same time on TV. The result will be respected by all local authorities as well as by the government in Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the EU, the U.S. and the international community.  This step means a border can be changed by a free, international recognized and open majority vote, but not with forces involved.

Kiev and Moscow will guarantee free travel of goods to Crimea.

To boost the economy at the Black Sea, a special tax-free-trade zone- comparable to Hongkong- should be established. The same could be done in the Oblast Kaliningrad at the Baltic Sea.

In case Crimea stays with Russia, Moscow will, as a gesture of goodwill and reconciliation, discount its gas supply for Ukraine by 25 percent over the next ten years based on the lowest payment in Europe.