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Why the Geneva Agreement is Too Good to Be True

Published: April 21, 2014 (Issue # 1806)


After an extended and dramatic meeting in Geneva on Thursday, the U.S., the European Union, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on some steps to de-­escalate the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The deal calls for the disarming of all illegal groups and requires protesters to vacate all occupied buildings. In return, protesters would be given amnesty for all but capital crimes, and the Ukrainian government would begin an inclusive and transparent process to draft a new constitution giving some powers to the regions.

While the Geneva agreement sounds good in theory, it is unlikely that it will last long. To understand why, consider how U.S. President Barack Obama praised the agreement for allowing "Ukrainians to make their own decision about their own lives." This is precisely what Russia is trying to avoid. If left entirely to their own devices, a majority of Ukrainians might well decide to align their country with the West, which could include EU and possibly even NATO membership.

As President Vladimir Putin made clear in his March 18 speech announcing the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine is an existential issue for Russia for cultural, historical, economic and geopolitical reasons. Putin's entire objective from the beginning has been to avoid Ukraine's departure from Moscow's orbit. From the Russian perspective, any permanent deal with Kiev must possess two main conditions. First, Moscow wants Ukraine's new constitution to implement an extreme version of federalization. For Putin, this means the eastern regions of Ukraine nearest to Russia could make their own independent economic and foreign policy choices, ensuring Russian influence over a large swathe of the country.

Second, Putin also wants to address the future of NATO in Russia's backyard. Many in the West have not appreciated the humiliation and fear that NATO expansion throughout Central and Eastern Europe and up to Russia's borders engendered in Russia over the years.

During the annual call-in show on Thursday, Putin laid out how Russia's annexation of Crimea was partially driven by fear of Ukraine joining NATO. "But we also followed certain logic," Putin said. "If we do not do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO sometime in the future...and NATO ships would dock in Sevastopol, the city of Russia's naval glory." In this context, it is inconceivable that Putin would sign off on any deal unless it ensured that Ukraine would never join NATO.

Russia is unlikely to simply take a step back and allow Ukrainians to make decisions about their own lives. Russia's desired version of a new Ukrainian constitution would essentially neuter any central government in Kiev and pave the way toward turning the eastern regions into Russian vassals. If Kiev is willing to accept these draconian conditions, a deal may yet be possible. Otherwise, Putin will surely continue to destabilize Ukraine until he gets what he wants.

The Geneva agreement also does not require a timeline for Moscow to pull back the 40,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine's eastern borders, and Putin again reminded the world on Thursday that he had already been granted the right to use armed forces in Ukraine by the Federation Council. We should enjoy the good feelings engendered by Geneva, but they will not last long.

Josh Cohen, a former U.S. State Department official, works for a satellite technology company in Washington.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekhov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekhov's books will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.



Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous’ in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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