This post will be updated over the weekend as events require, so please check back.
To begin with, here’s the full text of the agreement reached in Geneva on Ukraine:
The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens.
All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism.
All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.
Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.
It was agreed that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these de-escalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days. The U.S., E.U. and Russia commit to support this mission, including by providing monitors.
The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments.
The participants underlined the importance of economic and financial stability in Ukraine and would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented.
It’s a good and promising start, and a sign that there is a diplomatic solution at the end of this particular tunnel—even if, so far, it isn’t recognized by the pro-Russian thugs who’ve taken over government buildings in several cities across eastern Ukraine—among whom, NATO says, are a number of secret Russian forces à la Crimea. There’s still a long way to go, before some sort of more final accord is reached on a compromise between Russia’s demand that Ukraine be essentially divided and broken up and Kiev’s demand—backed by the United States, so far—that Ukraine be only slightly less centralized than it has been. But, because Russia holds the high cards in military terms, and wields huge economic influence over Ukraine, Moscow can hang tough and probably get most of what it wants. The real news here is that President Obama—perhaps because of his noted caution in foreign policy and perhaps because Western Europe, closely tied economically to Russia, is far more cautious than the United States is—is apparently committed to a diplomatic resolution above all.
Even the hawkish, often neoconservative-leaning Washington Post editorial page is optimistic—a big step, since only the other day its editorial said—far, far too pessimistically—that “it’s probably too late to prevent war in Ukraine.” In its editorial today, it says:
We were among those who doubted that a meeting on Ukraine in Geneva Thursday could produce results, given the weak Western response to Russian aggression. So count us as pleasantly surprised by the “initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security” that the parties announced.
War, of course, is and always was highly unlikely over Ukraine—mostly because the stakes are so imbalanced: Ukraine is vastly important to Russia and very, very unimportant to the United States, strategically. Still, and ugly standoff there, marked by clashes, bad words and escalating aid to each side in the conflict could have poisoned relations between the United States and Russia for many years to come—and it still might.
The next problem is: how to suppress the minority, extremist pro-Russian mobs who’ve taken over institutions in the east. They’ve already rejected the Geneva accord, and they say they’re not going anywhere. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian forces are haphazardly organized, poorly armed and incompetent, and they don’t seem capable of retaking the buildings on their own—at least not with a lot of bloodshed among civilians, especially. CNN quotes a leader of the nonexistent “Donetsk People’s Republic” speaking about Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov:
“Lavrov did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation,” Denis Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, told reporters in the city.
According to RT, Lavrov stresses that the accord opens the door to a national dialogue and constitutional reform, and that’s where Russia will press for sweeping decentralization of Ukraine, with autonomy for the east in particular. No doubt Russia will keep eastern Ukraine on simmer, at least, until the next steps are agreed upon, and nowhere in the accord do the parties say anything about the presence of 40,000 Russian troops perched on Ukraine’s borders—nor does it address US and Western aid to Kiev, either economic or military.
A good sign is that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an East-West group, will help de-escalate things by monitoring the situation on the ground, especially in the east. Says the OSCE release:
Swiss Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Didier Burkhalter welcomed the outcome of the discussions between the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine, the United States and the Russian Federation as well as the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who met today in Geneva.
Burkhalter underlined that the OSCE was ready to take up the key role given to the Special Monitoring Mission in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of the various measures agreed in the Geneva Statement. He praised the Geneva Statement as an expression of confidence towards the OSCE as an inclusive platform for supporting de-escalation in Ukraine.
“As new tasks and responsibilities have been assigned to the OSCE, I count on the continuous international support in funding and seconding of staff to the Special Monitoring Mission,” he added.