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Why the Geneva Agreement is Too Good to Be True

Published: April 21, 2014 (Issue # 1806)


After an extended and dramatic meeting in Geneva on Thursday, the U.S., the European Union, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on some steps to de-escalate the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The deal calls for the disarming of all illegal groups and requires protesters to vacate all occupied buildings. In return, protesters would be given amnesty for all but capital crimes, and the Ukrainian government would begin an inclusive and transparent process to draft a new constitution giving some powers to the regions.

While the Geneva agreement sounds good in theory, it is unlikely that it will last long. To understand why, consider how U.S. President Barack Obama praised the agreement for allowing "Ukrainians to make their own decision about their own lives." This is precisely what Russia is trying to avoid. If left entirely to their own devices, a majority of Ukrainians might well decide to align their country with the West, which could include EU and possibly even NATO membership.

As President Vladimir Putin made clear in his March 18 speech announcing the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine is an existential issue for Russia for cultural, historical, economic and geopolitical reasons. Putin's entire objective from the beginning has been to avoid Ukraine's departure from Moscow's orbit. From the Russian perspective, any permanent deal with Kiev must possess two main conditions. First, Moscow wants Ukraine's new constitution to implement an extreme version of federalization. For Putin, this means the eastern regions of Ukraine nearest to Russia could make their own independent economic and foreign policy choices, ensuring Russian influence over a large swathe of the country.

Second, Putin also wants to address the future of NATO in Russia's backyard. Many in the West have not appreciated the humiliation and fear that NATO expansion throughout Central and Eastern Europe and up to Russia's borders engendered in Russia over the years.

During the annual call-in show on Thursday, Putin laid out how Russia's annexation of Crimea was partially driven by fear of Ukraine joining NATO. "But we also followed certain logic," Putin said. "If we do not do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO sometime in the future...and NATO ships would dock in Sevastopol, the city of Russia's naval glory." In this context, it is inconceivable that Putin would sign off on any deal unless it ensured that Ukraine would never join NATO.

Russia is unlikely to simply take a step back and allow Ukrainians to make decisions about their own lives. Russia's desired version of a new Ukrainian constitution would essentially neuter any central government in Kiev and pave the way toward turning the eastern regions into Russian vassals. If Kiev is willing to accept these draconian conditions, a deal may yet be possible. Otherwise, Putin will surely continue to destabilize Ukraine until he gets what he wants.

The Geneva agreement also does not require a timeline for Moscow to pull back the 40,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine's eastern borders, and Putin again reminded the world on Thursday that he had already been granted the right to use armed forces in Ukraine by the Federation Council. We should enjoy the good feelings engendered by Geneva, but they will not last long.

Josh Cohen, a former U.S. State Department official, works for a satellite technology company in Washington.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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