MOSCOW (AP) — The talks in Geneva on Ukraine brought together four parties that had seemed extremely far apart on some issues, but within a few hours they produced a broad agreement that holds out substantial hope for a crisis that appeared on the verge of spinning out of control.
In what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described, with seeming understatement, as “a good day’s work,” Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the European Union each achieved initial satisfaction on some issues and weren’t hit by overt defeat on any. Some of that is because of what was left carefully unspoken in the joint statement at the end of Thursday’s talks. Other issues depend on whether the words can be translated into action.
A look at the sides, their gains and their challenges:
Heavily denounced by the West and Kiev as the instigator of unrest in Ukraine’s east, Russia’s signing of the conciliatory joint statement appears to be a significant, if intangible, image gain. It also boosts Moscow’s internationalist credentials by assigning a leading role in resolving the crisis to monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a group that Russia has claimed is biased toward the West.
On the home front, Russia sidesteps the immediate threat of further sanctions by Washington and the EU. Although officials had publicly sneered at already-imposed sanctions as feeble, markets suggested that Moscow was feeling the bite.
Russia has pushed for federalization of Ukraine – giving the country’s regions more power outside the central government, with the apparent aim of keeping the heavily Russian-speaking eastern regions within Moscow’s sphere of influence. Although the talks’ final document doesn’t specify federalization, it does speak of a “constitutional process (that) will be inclusive, transparent and accountable,” effectively meaning that federalization will remain a top issue.
Notably, the document makes no mention of Crimea, the Ukrainian region that was annexed by Russia last month. That could indicate the other parties, which had denounced the move, are now resigned to it.
But the document also says nothing about one of Russia’s main desires – keeping Ukraine out of NATO.
As tensions between Russia and the West spiraled, the acting government in Ukraine had at times seemed to have been playing a secondary role. But the joint statement, by calling for “broad national dialogue,” places responsibility on the government that recognizes the authorities’ influence.
The government also is tasked with a more difficult assignment, that of trying to implement the statement’s call for the disarming of illegal groups and for vacating illegally occupied buildings and public spaces. The authorities will be tested by enforcing that both in the east, where pro-Russia insurgents occupy buildings, and in the capital where nationalist self-defense groups still patrol the downtown and die-hard demonstrators still camp out in the main square.
After the agreement was reached, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Russia has no wish to send troops into eastern Ukraine. Although Russian officials have said that before, Ukraine’s government disbelieved those protestations. But Lavrov’s statement in such a high-visibility moment could give Kiev some small peace of mind.
The agreement also holds out the prospect of more financial aid to Ukraine as other conditions are implemented, a brass ring for the economically stumbling country to reach for.
For the time being, Washington escapes the difficulty of imposing new sanctions or other pressure on Russia.
Although the U.S. also wanted Russia to drop its annexation of Crimea, the joint statement’s silence on the issue indicates the concern is receding.
Mostly, the U.S. sought for Russia to end provocations in Ukraine’s east and attempts to destabilize the country – actions that Moscow consistently denied undertaking. Russia’s commitment in an international forum to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine put pressure on Moscow to back off.
Like the U.S., the 28-nation EU for now can step back from further sanctions, a tough issue for countries that depend heavily on Russian gas imports.
The EU also wanted pro-Russian insurgents to stop seizing buildings in Ukraine’s east, so if the militants follow the Geneva agreement’s call – or Ukraine can enforce it – one of the bloc’s top concerns would be satisfied.
Left hanging is the question of bringing Ukraine into closer economic ties with the bloc, one of the issues that ignited the major protests that drove out Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych and precipitated the current crisis.