The EU, US, Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers came to a deal in order to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. The arrangement calls for the disbanding of all illegal military groups; it calls for those occupying buildings to end their occupations; and it calls for a halt to new western sanctions against Russia. It will have almost no effect whatsoever.
The biggest problem with any agreement, of course, is implementation. Even when all parties desire to implement a deal as written, logistics, communications and human bloody-mindedness often get in the way. In this instance, one doubts whether there is even the desire to implement this arrangement. The Russians have made a deal that doesn’t really suit their purposes.
In the city of Donetsk, for instance, the BBC has broadcast images of pro-Russian agitators actually reinforcing their barricades. According to the reporters, those people are willing to leave their spots if and only if the government in Kyiv resigns. The occupiers argue that because the Kyiv government is unelected, it too is merely an illegal occupation entity. They will leave their spots in Donetsk when Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia, the man who just signed the deal on behalf of Ukraine, resigns along with all of his colleagues. That is highly unlikely to happen.
The question this raises is exactly how much influence does the Russian government really have over these agitators. Given that many of the people involved are armed with AK-100s (which are only issued to members of the Russian military), carry new Russian radios and wear new Russian style uniforms, it hard to believe that a core group isn’t really part of the Russian military. Matching uniforms is not a hallmark of a popular uprising. One suspects that if President Vladimir Putin were to request that they disband and go home, they would take the hint and do so.
The fact that the Kremlin has not, as of now, made such a request signals that the Putin regime is in no hurry to implement this deal. The key event in Ukraine’s future is the balloting scheduled for May 25, about 5 weeks from now. One must recall that the Sochi Olympics ended on February 23 and that by March 18, Crimea was annexed by Russia, slightly over 3 weeks. The point is that much can happen before the elections, and Russia wants to ensure that instability persists throughout that period. The purpose will be to take advantage of incidents as they arise. There is no grand strategy here, rather the Kremlin seeks to act opportunistically.
The risk Russia runs is a small one that the EU and US will determine at some point in the future that the deal has not been implemented, and therefore, that it is null and void. Then, fresh sanctions will follow. The sanctions offend Russia’s sense of dignity, and they represent genuine trouble for the individuals targeted. At the same time, the potential acquisition of some eastern Ukrainian oblasts or the neutralization of Ukraine in the East-West balance outweigh those troubles immeasurably.
In short, this agreement gives everyone a little breathing room, it prevents an across-the-board escalation for a time, but it doesn’t nothing to resolve the matters at the heart of the dispute.