Good News (?) From Ukraine

by Jonah Shepp

A ceasefire was announced today:

The two sides agreed to stop fighting at 6 p.m. local time today, Heidi Tagliavini, a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which will monitor the agreement, told reporters after negotiations in Minsk, Belarus. The talks included representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, where most of the fighting has occurred, and the OSCE. “Proceeding from President Putin’s call to leaders of illegal military formations to cease fire, and from the signing of the trilateral agreement in Minsk to implement the peace plan, I am ordering the General Staff to cease fire,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement. He canceled a summer truce on July 1 after his government cited more than 100 violations by the separatists. … The rebels, though, remained defiant, with the leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitskiy, telling reporters that the cease-fire doesn’t alter the goal of “splitting” from Ukraine.

In his press conference today at the NATO summit, Obama attributed the ceasefire to the success of US and EU sanctions on Russia, but the allies still approved a new rapid response force to beef up defense in Eastern Europe, among other measures. Considering the way the conflict has played out so far, I’m hopeful that the truce will hold, but not optimistic. And even if it does, Leonid Bershidsky calls it a win for Putin:

If the peace holds, people like Semenchenko will soon be returning from the front, and they may well decide that Poroshenko gave up too easily and that Ukraine should have fought on and martyred itself. Poroshenko’s plan to get a loyal parliament elected in October now faces many threats, ranging from a new escalation of fighting to a radical nationalist revolt. As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has secured a ringside seat and may settle down with a bowl of popcorn.

Any outcome suits him as long as Ukraine struggles to get out of its impasse alone. He will be happy to see the Lugansk and Donetsk regions turn into a frozen-conflict zone, precluding Ukraine’s further integration into NATO and the European Union, and equally pleased to have them gain broad autonomy from Kiev and a veto on major political decisions. A military solution suits him, too, since the West has refused to engage him except in the form of ineffectual sanctions.

Adam Swain notes that even a lasting ceasefire won’t address “the political problems that underpin the conflict, both within Ukraine and in Europe at large”:

As far as those deeper issues go, there are three possible outcomes. First, the ceasefire could hold, but without a diplomatic breakthrough; the conflict would effectively be frozen, and Ukraine would lose much if not all of its industrial heartland in the Donbas. Second, the ceasefire could be broken, leaving an unwinnable war to simmer in east Ukraine for years yet. Thirdly, an international peace conference could be held to map out a neutral and federal but united Ukraine, creating a buffer state between NATO/the EU and Russia. … Instead, the mostly likely upshot as things stand is a frozen conflict in a formally divided country, with a pro-Russian Donbas protectorate partitioned from a pro-Western Ukrainian rump. Of all the possible outcomes of the ceasefire deal, this is probably the worst for the ordinary people of both the Donbas in particular and Ukraine at large.

Brett LoGiurato suggests that Poroshenko was forced to call the ceasefire:

Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider last week that Russia’s decision to escalate its involvement had forced Poroshenko into a corner. Bremmer said Poroshenko would most likely seek a quick cease-fire solution to prevent his country’s economy from completely collapsing. “The Ukrainian government has been in an impossible position, they gambled, and they’ve lost,” Bremmer said. “Poroshenko now needs a cease-fire so that he can try to restart negotiations, the terms of which will effectively mean freezing the conflict and ceding significant pieces of Ukrainian territory to the separatists. That’s politically perilous for him and risks counterdemonstrations against his government in Kiev. All the while his economy will be falling apart, with very limited support from the West.”

But now, Max Fisher flags another alarming development in Estonia:

It’s not clear whether or not the attack has anything to do with the Russian government — Russian organized crime is active throughout the region. But the incident comes at an extremely tense moment between Russia and Estonia, one in which the United States has publicly committed to Estonia’s military defense, meaning that a Russian invasion of Estonia would trigger war between Russia and the US, a prospect so dangerous that the world managed to avoid it throughout even the Cold War. “Unidentified persons coming from Russia took the freedom of an officer of Estonian Scurity police officer on the territory of Estonia,” Estonia’s state prosecutor’s office announced. “The officer was taken to Russia using physical force and at gunpoint.” … The Estonian state security officer is identified as working on counterintelligence and organized crime — a confusing combination, and one that does not shed much light on whether his kidnappers appear to have been Russian government or Russian organized crime.

If the Kremlin did have a hand in that abduction, it would be a very serious escalation of the tensions in Eastern Europe and make clear that Putin is acting less rationally than John Mearsheimer believes. But let’s not jump to conclusions before we have the facts.