Ukraine Splits The Difference

The Ukrainian parliament had two big items on its agenda today:

In a vote synchronized with the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Ukrainian lawmakers unanimously approved the association pact over objections from Russia, which fears the loss of a market for its goods and damage to its economy from an influx of European products through Ukraine. … Earlier Tuesday, legislators voted behind closed doors to approve two bills granting amnesty to rebels and greater autonomy for eastern regions as part of an effort to consolidate a tenuous Sept. 5 cease-fire and end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The decision on Tuesday to enshrine in law an amnesty and a framework for self-rule in the east represented a major concession to Russia that in many ways gave the Kremlin what it had been seeking since early in the conflict, long before the violence broadened and thousands died.

Bershidsky doubts Ukrainians will thank Poroshenko for this:

That, in effect, is Ukraine’s signature under the creation of a frozen conflict area.

For Russia, that kind of buffer is the best: It’s not an unrecognized state with a murky status, but an officially recognized enclave within Ukraine. Kiev takes responsibility for it, but has little or no influence on what happens there. The law will probably stand for now, as long as Poroshenko and Putin manage to make the shaky cease-fire in eastern Ukraine stick.

This is a bitter pill for Ukrainians to swallow. “I wouldn’t have voted for this bill if I had been a legislator,” journalist Mustafa Nayyem, who is running for a parliament seat as part of Poroshenko’s electoral bloc,wrote on Facebook. “I see no value in compromises that can lead to another political split in Kiev, mutual accusations of treachery and a show-off patriotism contest.”

Linda Kinstler is despondent:

A frozen conflict, when the Kremlin is involved, is what happens when, as the BBC put it, “a bloody, territorial conflict with no obvious solution is put on hold, with Russia stepping in to keep the peace on its own terms.” On Tuesday, the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republicsannounced they are merging their militias into a single force, the United Army of Novorossiya, which will liberate Ukraine from “Nazi scum.” These are the people who will be ruling the populations of Donetsk and Luhansk for the next three years. It’s hard to look at all this and not get the feeling that those who died fighting for Ukraine gave their lives for naught.

Walter Russell Mead is aghast:

Make no mistake about this. The settlement is a deeply damaging blow to our values, to our prestige and to our geopolitical interests. The foolish and distracted Western policies that encouraged Ukraine into a confrontation with Russia in which the West was unwilling to back it; the shameful and feckless mix of triumphalist rhetoric and minimalist action; the cluelessness in the face of Putin’s skillful mastery of Western psychology and divisions; the miserable consequences of all this for the Ukrainian state: every country, every leader in the world has been paying close attention. Historians, by the way, will also pay attention; the Obama legacy has been permanently tarnished. Unless some real changes take place, neither this President nor his close associates will cut an impressive figure when the accounts are drawn up.

And Jan Techau is skeptical that the EU will be able to act as “the de facto guarantee power for another entity’s political success against the declared intentions of a regional rival”:

There is already a sense creeping into the foreign policy crowd that Europeans may have bitten off more than they can chew. Unity among 28 member states is extremely fragile. The remodeling of the European Neighborhood Policy—the instrument that guides EU relations with Ukraine and other Eastern neighbors—will be tedious and fraught with institutional infighting in Brussels. And money is scarce. More significantly, there are severe doubts that the EU has the political will and the diplomatic toughness to insist on conditionality, the core piece of the neighborhood policy. But without a swift, watertight, and potentially brutal sanctions mechanism for neighbors that do not adhere to an agreed reform process, the transformative power of any new policy will be exactly what it was under the old one: close to zero.

On the other hand, the recent US-EU sanctions on Russia really do seem to be biting, with the Russian ruble falling and state-owned industries like Rosneft asking the government for aid:

Economist Alexei Kudrin, who served as finance minister under President Vladimir Putin for 11 years until 2011, said Tuesday that the sanctions could send Russia into a long recession. “The sanctions that have been imposed are going to have an effect (on the economy) for the next one or two years because they have limited opportunities for investment in this uncertain environment,” Russian news agency Interfax quoted him as saying. … The rouble is this year’s biggest-declining major emerging currency, having lost more than 15 percent in value to hit a new low against the US dollar on Tuesday.

Zenon Evans sees signs that tensions are de-escalating:

Russian state-owned media has made a “drastic change” lately by softening its anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, according to the independent Moscow Times. This may be a positive sign of Russia winding down its war. For its part, the U.S. is also speaking somewhat more softly about Russia. President Barack Obama admitted that Crimea “is gone,” and Secretary of State John Kerry last week called upon Moscow to help America fight the Islamic State, which has personally threatened Putin.

But Katie Zavadski catches a Russian official talking about Russians in the Baltics in a manner eerily reminiscent of the lead-up to the Crimea invasion:

Konstantin Dolgov — Russia’s foreign minister on issues of human rights, democracy, and rule of law — voiced concern Saturday over the treatment of Russian citizens in the Baltic states. Consider that a warning. According to the text of a speech published on the Russian foreign ministry’s website (and evidently given at the Regional Conference of Russian Compatriots of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in Riga), the “protection of the rights and lawful interests of our compatriots abroad is one of the prioritized actions” of the foreign ministry. The speech’s inflammatory language echoed the precursors of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, citing concerns for the well-being and rights of Russians in the territory.

NATO is hip to this threat, Eli Lake reports, and is warning the Kremlin against trying to pull off a stealth invasion of a Baltic state:

[NATO Commander Gen. Philip] Breedlove, speaking at the Atlantic Council on Monday, said if the Kremlin tried that in one of the NATO allies that border Russia—like the former Soviet republics in the Batlics, for example—it would risk triggering Article Five of NATO’s charter which is the section that calls on the alliance to come to the defense of a member state being attacked. … Breedlove added that the issue was discussed this month at Wales at the head of state summit. “We had great acceptance among the NATO allies though that if you attribute this ‘little green men’ issue to an aggressor nation, it is an Article Five action and then all of the assets of NATO come to bear.”