By Vitaly Portnikov
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
Do not stop; do not trust. This is the main conclusion for Ukraine after the talks in Geneva.
What have the members of the Geneva talks really decided on? Will there be a real chance to stop violence in Ukraine and to prevent the possibility of Russian aggression? Did Moscow offer concessions or was it Ukraine and the West who were forced to make concessions?
There are no answers to these questions in the Geneva declaration and there cannot be. The answer can only be found in concrete events that will happen – or will not happen – after its signing. So right now we can only talk about the circumstances that guided the participants of the talks.
For us, of course, the Russian motive is most interesting. The Ukrainian – and Western – motives are clear: it is necessary to stabilize the situation, begin real economic and political reforms, and run the elections… that is exactly what is meant by “de-escalation.” But why would a side that is interested in the opposite – in escalation – participate in the talks? The Russian motive is simple. At first glance, everything is going according to the plan of Vladimir Putin – Crimea is occupied, Donbas is destabilized, it is possible to plan the next steps.
But in fact there are consequences which the Kremlin underestimated.
First – the growing international isolation of Russia, which even top Russian officials must admit to. Russia has been left virtually alone in the international community. The West, far from planning to cancel sanctions, is thinking of increasing them. For Vladimir Putin’s collaborators, that translates to losses of billions of dollars, and tangible consequences for the Russian economy as a whole – and this is only the beginning. In the event of the annexation of some other Ukrainian Oblast [region], Russia will receive a third round of sanctions – a full economic blockade, and several more million freeloaders, citizens of a region with an uncertain status where they can forget about any investment. The costs that Russia must carry with the occupation of Crimea speak for themselves.
Second – the East of Ukraine did not become a cakewalk for Putin’s saboteurs and mercenaries. It has become obvious that, despite all the difficulties that have built up in Ukraine’s police and armed forces during the years of Viktor Yanukovich, and despite the deliberate breakdown of these structures by Russian agents, taking the East would require waging war. And that involves facing not only supporters of the occupation, but its active opponents, of whom there were undoubtedly less in Crimea.
Putin is not interested in a war with mass casualties. He is also not interested in economic isolation. He is interested in the West recognising him as an emperor and speaking with him as with the emperor. He is interested in successful special ops, parades, good TV images and triumph.
His triumph already concluded on the very day of the meeting in Geneva. His live television line was a true winning jubilation in the best traditions of Ancient Rome: Sevastopol residents in the role of the grateful saved barbarian tribe from the shores of Tauris, Irina Khakamada in the role of Cleopatra, a joyful population stretching out their hands in a classic greeting…
His special operation in Donetsk region is ongoing. The May 9 [Victory Day] parade preparations are under way. Why not, against this backdrop, try to limit the negative outcomes of the celebration? In other words, to see what would happen if Russia sits at the negotiating table. Will the West relax the sanctions? Will Ukraine pull their forces back from the border? In a word, this is a ceasefire, a time to catch some rest and regroup forces.
For Ukraine and her Western partners it is most important not to stop and not to trust. The reactions to the results of the Geneva meeting by President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, and Baroness Catherine Ashton, give hope that this is understood in Washington and in Kyiv. They are publicly talking about distrust. And also about support for Ukraine. And about the need to combat separatism.
Russia agrees to change sabotage, special ops and state terrorism for political regulation only when they realize that they cannot trick their partners or escape neither war nor a third round of sanctions. The importance of the results of the Geneva meeting is that, for the first time since the beginning of Russian aggression against our country, there is now at least a small chance for political process.