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The Geneva Respite

Published: April 22, 2014 (Issue # 1806)


The agreement on Ukraine that Russia, the European Union, U.S. and Ukraine reached in Geneva on Thursday is the first document in which all four parties expressed at least some degree of common interest. It provided a glimmer of hope that the Ukrainian crisis might cool down somewhat. At the same time, however, it does not offer the de-escalation that would stave off the second round of sanctions that Washington is threatening to impose against Moscow.

The Geneva agreement might have offerred a slight relief, but it did not generate serious hopes for resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

It is good that the EU, U.S. and Russia sat down at the same table together, and it is good that they have assumed some responsibility for complying with this fragile agreement. That is especially important considering that the interim government in Kiev lacks full control over the situation in the country.

At the same time, though, nobody should overestimate the significance of the Geneva agreement. The most alarming thing is that it took participants eight hours of intensive negotiations to formulate the text of what is essentially just a standard truce. Rumors even flew during the talks that the process might break down at any moment.

The finished document calls for disarming all militant groups and for militants to vacate the buildings they seized, while offering amnesty for rebels, except those who committed capital crimes. The agreement also calls for a "national dialogue" but fails to spell out who would participate in such a dialogue and what results it should produce. Neither does the document refer in any way to the presidential election slated for May 25 or to the possibility of canceling or rescheduling that election.

The document also fails to stipulate if constitutional reforms that will introduce elements of federalism and weaken the powers of the president should precede or follow the election and whether a referendum on those reforms will be held. Lavrov left the Geneva talks claiming that constitutional reform in Ukraine is inevitable. But his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said nothing to indicate that Washington shared that view.

One other problem is that the word "federalism" — perhaps the largest issue of contention between Kiev and the militants in the eastern regions — does not even appear in the document. The participants simply deferred that issue, referring only vaguely to some indefinite process of "national dialogue." But I seriously doubt the effectiveness of such a dialogue unless the same international mediators who met in Geneva will accompany the process throughout. Even before the current crisis, the Ukrainian political elite were renowned for their inability to reach an agreement among themselves and their habit of breaking obligations they had only just assumed.

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Tuesday, Sept. 2


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