While Vladimir Putin cranked up the rhetoric to maximum hawkishness back in Moscow today, and the situation continued to deteriorate in eastern Ukraine with three pro-Russian militants killed during an apparent attempt to take over a Ukrainian military base, the diplomats actually had a pretty productive day in Geneva.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchystsia, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have reached a deal intended to defuse the crisis:
In addition to disarmament of illegal groups, the seven-paragraph “Joint Geneva Statement” called for the return of “all illegally seized buildings . . . to legitimate owners” and said that “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.”
As Ukraine’s interim government has previously offered, the agreement also grants amnesty to protesters, “with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.”…
It voiced support for a constitutional reform process currently underway in Ukraine and insisted that it be “inclusive, transparent and accountable.” The process, it said, “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.”
In practice, this will likely mean much greater political autonomy for Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking eastern regions.
Hopefully the deal leads to the de-escalation of a situation that appeared to be on the verge of spiraling into mass violence, but there are a lot of unresolved questions, including how the regional governments of eastern Ukraine will interact with Kiev going forward, particularly on the issue of EU integration, which sparked this crisis in the first place. I'll also be curious to see what a referendum on the future status of eastern Ukraine will actually look like.
The agreement also doesn’t address the 40,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, meaning that Kiev could essentially be negotiating with a gun to its head in the weeks to come. The U.S. sanctions on Russian officials will presumably remain in place and could complicate other areas of cooperation for Washington and Moscow. Then, of course, there’s Crimea, which Ukraine is almost certainly not going to recognize as Russian territory and which Russia will almost certainly not give up.
Hopefully, at least this most dangerous phase of the crisis is coming to an end—although deals that seem secure have had a habit of falling apart very quickly in Ukraine—but even in the best scenario, we’re still a long way form being out of the woods.