Is The Ukraine Deal Dead Already?

The agreement signed last week to restore calm in eastern Ukraine quickly unraveled over the weekend, with clashes at a checkpoint in Slovyansk on Sunday that left three pro-Russian separatists dead:

The Russian Foreign Ministry quickly seized on the Easter Sunday clash as evidence that the new Ukrainian government could not keep order. The new mayor of Slovyansk, meanwhile, begged Russian President Vladimir Putin to send “peacekeepers” to protect the people. Ukraine’s leaders fear that Putin is looking for any excuse to take more direct action in the nation’s east, where many residents speak Russian and distrust the central authorities in Kiev. The Security Service of Ukraine called Sunday’s attack a “cynical provocation” staged by pro-Russia elements.

Daniel Berman thinks the Kremlin is looking to sink the agreement:

So why sign an agreement and then immediately torpedo it?  Well, perhaps the Kremlin wants to “demonstrate” to the West that they do not control the separatists, and that the West will have to meet their minimum demands in order to gain a lasting cease-fire. Hitherto Kiev, Brussels, and Washington have tried to deal through Moscow on the assumption that Putin, because he had turned on the faucet of unrest could also turn it off.

By “disclaiming” responsibility for the unrest Putin puts Kerry and Ashton in the unfortunate position of having to talk with the separatist, which at a minimum involves recognizing them as legitimate actors who are genuine representatives of their communities. This wold be a devastating concession for Kiev even if the fragmented and chaotic nature of the separatist leadership and almost certain Kremlin sabotage would not render such negotiations futile.

There is a time aspect of this as well. Vice President Biden is arriving in the Ukraine today. Staging supposed Ukrainian “violations” of the cease-fire puts pressure on him in his meetings with Ukrainian leaders to keep the Ukrainian army out of the East, and makes proposals to supply weapons, ammunition and other military aid non-starters, as with a “truce” nominally in place, such efforts would be hostile acts.

On Friday, Michael Crowley saw this coming:

On the pro-Russian side, agitators occupying government buildings in Donestk and other eastern cities and towns seem uninterested in those words. “Lavrov did not sign anything for us,” Denis Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, told reporters. And why would he? Moscow has denied coordinating with the likes of Pushilin, even if almost no one believes it. The question is whether Pushilin and his ilk are truly independent—or just obeying Moscow’s orders to ignore the deal.

On the pro-European side, the demonstrators who have been encamped in central Kiev for months aren’t about to abandon the tent-city infrastructure where dozens of them died. It’s not clear whether Moscow ever considered that a realistic outcome of the Geneva deal or is simply drawing the equivalence to defend the antics of its supporters in the east. But almost nothing Moscow does can disband Kiev’s Maidan.

Ed Morrissey isn’t surprised:

It’s no accident that Russia accused Ukraine of being unable to keep order. That will be the context of their eventual intervention in that region — to protect the Russian-speaking populations in the Donetsk and other eastern regions, and potentially all the way across to the Transnistria region of Moldova. Just as in Crimea, they need the pretext to mature, while attempting to maintain deniability until it becomes more politically advantageous to take credit for it.

Max Fisher sums up Putin’s strategy in Ukraine:

The Russian playbook in eastern Ukraine appears to be this: instigate local separatist forces who will seize government areas and send in Russian commandoes, posing as local volunteers, to bolster them (this is what they did in Crimea). Simultaneously warn Ukraine not to use force against the separatists while putting Ukraine in a position where it has to use force against the separatists if it wants to keep control over its own territory. Mass Russian troops on the border and issue lots of subtle threats about how you might have to intervene if the violence you helped to instigate spirals out of control. …

If Russia does invade, its military is so much stronger than Ukraine’s that it seems likely that Ukrainian forces will simply pull back, as they did in Crimea. That would mean a Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine, which could well end with Russia annexing the territory through a Crimea-style rushed-through referendum. But it’s also possible that Ukrainian forces would stand and fight, or that the situation would slip out of control, and that could mean open war.

But Michael Totten explains why even a successful invasion could be a losing proposition for Putin:

He’d lose all his leverage over Kiev. Even an unspoken threat of invasion, occupation, and annexation is enough to make Ukraine act with tremendous caution toward Moscow, but if Putin pulls the trigger, Kiev would have nothing left to lose.

And the odds that Ukraine, shorn of nearly all its ethnic Russians, would ever again elect a president who’s soft on Moscow would be virtually nil. Ukraine would slip from Putin’s sphere of influence so utterly that the only way he’d be able to get it back into his orbit would be by invading and conquering the whole country.

Never mind the price he’d pay internationally for that kind of stunt; invading and occupying the largest country in Europe would require more than a half-million troops and God-only-knows how much money. And for what purpose? Ukraine poses no national security threat whatsoever to Russia.