Room for debate: International experts examine the agreement to end the bloody crisis in Ukraine, asking whether this deal will be enough to stop the violence and which side comes out on top.
Opposition and the authorities achieves an agreement over political crisis in Ukraine. Source: Reuters
The crisis in Ukraine may be over. On Friday, Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition leaders reportedly signed a political accord to end the standoff. The deal was being negotiated late on Thursday and through the night, and early on Friday the website of the President of Ukraine announced that the agreement had been concluded.
As of Friday afternoon, correspondents in Ukraine report that the agreement stipulates a return to the 2004 constitution within 48 hours, the establishment of a new coalition government within ten days, early presidential elections not later than in December, 2014, and trimming presidential powers in favor of the parliament.
Ukrainska Pravda quotes sources deal means return to 2004 constitution within 48h, new coalition govt within 10 days, early elex in Dec— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) February 21, 2014
All major stakeholders participated in the talks, including the Presidential Administration, the opposition, EU and Russian representatives. This is an optimistic sign of a coming resolution of the crisis. The opposition in the streets, however, has not confirmed the President’s claim that the deal had been concluded. Reports from the main city square indicate that there is a split in the opposition as activists refuse to abide by the terms their leadership brokered with the government.
Russia Direct talked to experts in Russia’s foreign policy and Eastern European politics to hear their take on current events in Ukraine.
Piotr Kościński, Head of the Eastern Program at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.
The agreement, negotiated in Kiev by three EU ministers, could really end the bloodshed. The condition is not only the adoption of the agreement by President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition together with the whole Maidan, but probably some form of international control over its implementation.
It is hardly surprising that there are radical groups in the Maidan, but we have hope that they will abide by the agreement. Of course, it is possible to break the terms of the deal, but the international community should do everything to prevent this from happening. Responsibility lies primarily on the side of Yanukovich, because he is still the president, and it largely depends on him to restore the Constitution of 2004, form the new government and to set the new date of elections. And it’s Yanukovich who has the Berkut and Interior Ministry troops in his disposal. They carry out his orders.
Russia is one of the stakeholders in this conflict and whether Russia will lose as a result of an agreement in Kiev actually depends only on Russia itself. First of all, it depends on whether Russia will look at the situation in Ukraine ideologically or pragmatically. At the moment, Moscow’s view is ideologically based. It sees the situation as an "EU-Russia fight." Secondly, we have to doubt that the behavior and actions of Russian authorities caused an increase in sympathy for Russia in Ukraine, except perhaps in the Crimea. A pragmatic approach, the actual treatment of Ukraine as a partner, could improve the opinion of Russia both in Ukraine and in Europe.
Nickolay Mezhevich, Professor at the Department of European Research at Saint Petersburg State University.
Judging by the terms of the agreement, the coalition comes out as a winner in these talks, given that the top of the opposition controls its activists in the Maidan. I have doubts that the right sector of the opposition are in need of this compromise, as the compromise will lead to a repeat of instability.
If in the presidential elections the opposition presents a strong candidate from the West of Ukraine, he will be voted down by the Eastern part and vice versa. There is no universal candidate in Ukraine today who could satisfy both parts of the country. The elections will result in a deadlock. Those who are used to resolving issues by means of unrest will not agree to give up the cause all that easily.
The proxy war that is raging in Ukraine led the stakeholders outside Ukraine to wage a harsh information battle. Russia has almost lost the information war but due to intensified violence Russian media gave up the inappropriate softness and political correctness.
The deal between the government and the opposition does not result in a defeat for Russia, because the fight is not over yet. Russia is standing strong, has a consistent position and Vladimir Putin’s envoy was sent there to explain Russia’s position. Russia has a long border with Ukraine and it will have to stay involved in the resolution of this crisis in the future. The best option for Russia is ending the violent unrest in Kiev and returning to normal democratic process without nationalistic rhetoric on the part of protesters that turned the Maidan into a nightmare.
There is also the role of Poland. In fact, this remains one of the most under-reported factors in this crisis. Poland initiated the Eastern Partnership and it was important for the country to win the battle for democratic Ukraine, with the Maidan or without it. Polish authorities, however, were horrified by the nationalistic side of the protests and started to split. If the EU keeps insisting on its terms and lead ultra-pro-European forces to power in Ukraine, these forces will be unruly and eventually turn against the West. It’s not a coincidence that the Polish Foreign Minister was among the three EU foreign ministers currently in Kiev mediating between the Yanukovich and the opposition.
Michael Slobodchikoff, Lecturer in the Political Science Department at Troy University and the author of “Regional Security: Order, Stability, and Predictability in the Post-Soviet Space.”
Ukraine has been used as a pawn in the great power struggle over influence: Both the EU and Russia want to influence the country, but so far Russia is the only state to directly help Ukraine’s economy. Although there is no clear-cut proxy war in Ukraine, there is a war over information. The Kremlin has focused so far on the spread of soft power, but it seems to be losing this battle. The West has framed the conflict by painting Russia as responsible for the conflict and the protesters as merely wanting Ukraine to turn to Europe.
Russia is a very important player in this conflict. Ukraine will default on its foreign debt unless Moscow helps. There is more to this story, and it is too early to tell what is occurring here. I think Moscow and Kiev have developed a new agreement, but we won't know the details for a little while. This is further evidence that the proxy conflict occurring between the EU and Russia has great ramifications for the rest of the world.
I think following the signing of the agreement the elections won't take place quickly, as the government will want assurance that the situation will simmer down first. There is little incentive for the government to make concessions as they face not only losing the election, but also arrest if the opposition wins. Thus, certain guarantees would have to be agreed to for the government to make any concessions. I just don't see that happening soon. There are reports that some police officers have joined the protesters, which is an ominous development. The government will worry about the loyalty of the military and police, which could drastically change the dynamics of any deal quickly.
The main question now is whether protesters will stick to the terms of the agreement. The opposition is not homogeneous. Even if the political opposition can agree to a deal with the government, there is no guarantee that the protesters will disperse. With protests spreading to Lviv and other cities, the protesters will be very reluctant to agree to anything but a new constitution and new elections, which the government will not approve. Further, Russia will not agree to such a resolution, nor will Eastern Ukraine. The sides are so far apart now, that the mediators will have to find very creative solutions to resolve the crisis, and even then, it is likely that a significant portion of the protesters won't accept the deal and will continue to protest with violence likely to continue.
Timofey Bordachev, Director of the Center for Comprehensive European Studies and Deputy Dean for Strategic Planning at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow.
The terms of the agreement are favorable for Yanukovich, considering the current status quo in Ukraine. After the events of the past two days protesters could demand president’s immediate resignation. The stipulations of the deal may allow Yanukovich to survive politically and even stay in power.
By getting the leadership of the opposition to sign the agreement, Yanukovich separates the official opposition from extremists. By signing it in front of European Foreign Ministers and then breaching it, Klitschko and Yatsenyuk would end their political leadership.
Protesters in the streets will most probably not support the deal, because these are the radicals who have clear goals, but the West is ready to conduct talks with Klitschko and Yatsenyuk only.
It’s hard to establish whether the agreement is favorable for Russia or not. The only thing clear is that Russia doesn’t want to see Ukraine in NATO in five years. Anyway, this crisis shows that Russia and the EU are capable of finding solutions to Ukrainian crisis peacefully.