Makings of a Deal?

It seems I was wrong: Obama (and Putin) apparently do want a deal: 

Top diplomats meeting here on the Ukraine crisis Thursday agreed that all parties, including separatists and their Russian backers, would stop violent and provocative acts, and that all illegal groups would be disarmed.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said those steps must begin within days to be taken seriously, and President Obama was openly skeptical of Russian intentions.

The potential diplomatic breakthrough, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to as “a compromise, of sorts,” came after nearly seven hours of negotiations among Lavrov, Kerry, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

This is genuinely good news. The Nelson Reports’ reaction is after the jump for those inclined. One note: wouldn’t it be interesting if at some point in the near future people start talking of Finlandizing the Ukraine? While that’s not an optimal long term solution it sure as hell beats a civil war in the Ukraine.

From the Nelson Report:

SUMMARY: to the frank astonishment of most of us, Sec State Kerry today announced that Foreign Minister Lavrov had agreed to a preliminary document outlining steps that if implemented, would/should/could lead to de-escalation of the crisis on the ground in Ukraine.

Our waffle words, not his, you understand. Loyal Reader reaction was cautious, hopeful but for obvious reasons…skeptical may be too strong…more like careful not to get excited, pending sequential results like a successful May 25 election. See below. Among other things, today’s document doesn’t mention the 40,000 Russian troops massed at The Ukraine’s eastern border.

Still, taken literally, Kerry seems to have reached a de-escalation agreement that will give greater autonomy to Ukraine’s regions and will disarm separatist groups. Kerry and Pres Obama are threatening more sanctions if Russia does not follow through, so one has to ask if Putin hasreally backed down, or is simply buying time to see if the US and EU remain firm and/or the Kiev government falters in some way useful to Moscow.

Meanwhile, there’s some nasty you-know-what out there. Kerry confirmed that in the eastern Ukraine, leaflets were distributed telling Jews to register and pay a fee of $50. Denis Pushilin, the leader of a pro-Russian militant group, reportedly denies being involved, The Washington Post reports. See the Joint Statement, below, point about anti-Semitism.

Anyhow…at the press conference (transcript sent earlier, should be in your box…) Kerry, speaking with the EU’s Ashton:

 “We wanted to find concrete steps, not just words, but concrete steps that could be acted on immediate in order to defuse the situation,” Kerry said in Geneva, following the first meeting the Ukraine contact group in Geneva, which included Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, along with representatives from Ukraine and the European Union.
“All of this we are convinced represents a good day’s work, but on the other hand, this day’s work has produced principles, and it has produced commitments and it has produced words on paper,” Kerry added. “And we are the first to understand and agree that words on paper will only mean what the actions taken as a result of those words produce.”

Speaking, we suspect, for most of you, here’s an expert Loyal Reader, and former senior US official for Russia et al:

Chris, right now there is one BIG question:Is this one small step for de-escalation … or “peace in our time”? And then there are many other questions – in fact, more questions,  unfortunately, than answers:

For the Russians:

Why the rush for Putin to get Federation Council authorization for military action just on the eve of this meeting?

How can Putin reconcile  the statements he made  at his press conference (Eastern Ukraine was once part of Russia, Russia has the right to intervene)  with the tone and spirit of the  agreement  just signed?

Can the Russians continue to disavow any role in  “spontaneous actions” by forces in E. Ukraine?

Will the Russians now  talk directly with the Ukrainian Government, or will they continue to consider it illegitimate?

Nothing was said about the 40,000 or so Russian  troops massed at the border.  Will these troops stand down or leave the border areas?

If the occupiers and protesters don’t leave, will the Russian acknowledge the right of the Ukrainian authorities to go in and clear the buildings, even with force?

Will the Russians support or impede preparations for the May 25th presidential elections?

For the West and the International Community:

Why the wait on financial support, when this is what Ukraine needs first and foremost?

Will the push for tighter sanctions  now fizzle-even those involving punishment for the annexation of Crimea?

Will Ukraine get any support for its under equipped and poorly trained military?

How will the OSCE mission function – Will it have freedom to go anywhere?  Will reports only be issued on the basis of unanimity?

For the Record, here’s the Kerry/Ashton/Lavrov Joint Statement:

Following is a joint statement on Thursday by the four parties – the United States, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine – meeting in Geneva to discuss the continuing conflict in 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 protesters 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 O.S.C.E. 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.

OBAMA/MERKEL: Readout of the President’s Call with Chancellor Merkel of Germany…sent prior to the Kerry announcement:

The President and Chancellor Merkel of Germany spoke today regarding their deep concern about the situation in eastern Ukraine.  The President commended the government of Ukraine’s approach to today’s discussions in Geneva, where it put forward constructive proposals to expand local governance and ensure the rights of all Ukrainians are protected.  The leaders stressed that Russia needs to take immediate, concrete actions to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by using its influence over the irregular forces in eastern Ukraine to get them to lay down their arms and leave the buildings they have seized.  The President and the Chancellor agreed that the United States and Europe are prepared to take further measures if this de-escalation does not occur in short order.  The leaders also stressed their support for Ukraine’s May 25 presidential elections.

LOYAL READERS CONTINUE TO COMMENT …this from Mitch Reiss also came prior to today’s announcement:

Mitchell Reiss, now president of Washington College, ran INR at State for Powell and Armitage:

 Dear Chris:

You have admirably covered the escalating confrontation between Russia and Ukraine in the past few days, including reports from former officials and commentators on possible policy steps.  I want to suggest one more that expands the range of options at Washington’s disposal.

Putting on my policy planning hat, I would like to propose that we consider greatly expanding the number of visas we offer to Russian nationals and request that our European partners do the same.  Thinking strategically about a new immigration policy for the United States for the 21st century is an urgent priority, but in the meantime, we should be able to agree that we can accommodate X number more of Russian engineers, scientists, academics, artists and entrepreneurs as a way of striking back at Putin’s aggression in Crimea and his continuing threats to Ukraine.

Welcoming thousands more Sergei Brins would simultaneously weaken Russia and strengthen the United States.  Would the threat to do so be enough to stay Putin’s hand?  Probably not, although the USG does not have a very good track record at reading his mind.  But it may be more palatable to some of our European friends like Germany who have deep economic ties to Russia.  And it would raise the costs to Moscow of continued interference in Ukraine, along with serious economic sanctions — and provide one more arrow in the White House’s quiver.  

Best, Mitchell

If I’ve missed anything else, please add it to the comments.

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