Ukraine Deal: Unrealistic Expectations

Sunday, April 20, 2014
On Thursday in Geneva, representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU worked out an agreement to bring separatists and authorities back from the brink of war in eastern Ukraine. Here's a summary of the deal:
The US, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union have reached agreement on a series of immediate steps aimed at pulling eastern Ukraine back from the brink of war.
The deal, clinched after a dramatic extended meeting in Geneva, calls for the disarming of all illegal groups. In the next few days they would have to vacate all the government buildings and public spaces they have occupied over the course of the crisis.
In return, the protesters in eastern Ukraine would be offered amnesty for all but capital crimes and the government in Kiev would immediately start a process of public consultation aimed at devolving constitutional powers to the provinces.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will be given the job not only of making sure the agreement will be put into practice but also of helping to implement it. The US, Russia and European countries would provide monitors to beef up the OSCE's manpower, which would be given access across Ukraine.
Here, meanwhile, are the comments made by US Secretary of State John Kerry about the arrangement:
We agreed today that all illegal armed groups must be disarmed, that all illegally seized buildings must be returned to their legitimate owners, and all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated. The government of Ukraine itself affirmed -- and again today -- that it will grant amnesty to protesters and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrender weapons, with the exception of those people who are found guilty of capital offenses.
We also agreed -- and I think this is a key part of what was focused on today -- we wanted to find concrete steps -- not just words but concrete steps that could be acted on immediately in order to diffuse the situation. And so we agreed that the OSCE’s special monitoring mission, which is already on the ground, whose mission has already been defined and granted, that they undertake a special role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of the de-escalation measures, that they will do so wherever they are needed the most in the coming days. That means beginning immediately.
The United States, the EU and Russia committed to support this mission, including by providing monitors directly.
Folks in the United States, who just want this problem to go away, quickly responded to the deal with enthusiasm. Pundits like David Ignatius have given their thumbs up, declaring that 'the wary diplomat' (Obama) and 'the macho bully' (that would be Putin) had reached an agreement in which 'each side can reasonably claim success.'

Um...I guess so, but the problem is that settling matters in eastern Ukraine is not simply a question of allowing 'each side' to claim success. That's because there are more than two sides involved here, and the people who are most intimately and passionately involved in these affairs were not in Geneva.

Look again at the quotation above from Kerry, especially at the last line. Who's involved? The United States, the EU, Russia and Ukraine. And do any of those parties have any control over the people occupying city buildings in eastern Ukraine? No one seems to have told these folks that they're supposed to be following the orders of Russian diplomats in Geneva.

As I've mentioned a number of times in my posts on eastern Ukraine, things are playing out quite differently from the situation last month in Crimea. When discussing the Russian annexation of Crimea, it obviously makes sense work through Russia. The takeover of Crimea was undertaken by Russian forces. The operation was organized, professional and essentially over within a few days.   

Contrast that with eastern Ukraine. It's been chaotic, and it seems clear that the Kremlin does not have control over the separatists engaged in a stand-off with Ukrainian authorities.

Putin, I think, massed his soldiers on the Ukrainian border not because he was seriously thinking of invading the country, but in order to destabilize Ukraine. He wanted to raise the hopes of separatists in eastern Ukraine in order to get them to do precisely what they're doing. Why? Because it makes people forget Crimea, which is what Putin has wanted all along.

For Putin, the best move forward now would be to resolve this matter quickly, watch things settle down in eastern Ukraine, and return to the business of incorporating Crimea back into Russia.

The Russian president's nightmare scenario, on the other hand, would be to get bogged down in fighting in eastern Ukraine, with the resulting destabilization moving into Russia's multitude of ethnically and religiously-defined republics, districts and other constituent units.

Dealing effectively with Putin means having a decent understanding of his end game. My sense is that too many people have been reading this crisis in far too simple a manner. I don't know if John Kerry seriously believes that working through Moscow's representatives in Geneva will change the behavior of Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, but my hope is that he is too smart for that.

So we should be too.


Also see:

Tough Options

Russia and the Politics of Citizenship

The Crimea: More Than Just a War

More Thoughts on the Crimea

Crimea on the Brink: What's Going On?

South Ossetia and the Fate of the Mini-Republics

More thoughts on South Ossetia

Obama, Russia and the Middle East

Trouble in Ukraine

Beating the War Drums Again

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