The breaking news is that a deal of sorts has been hammered out in Geneva to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine. The New York Times is currently running an overly optimistic headline on its homepage: “Diplomatic Pact Commits Russia and Ukraine to Ease Tensions”. Only time will tell, we suppose, but there’s ample reason to be skeptical.Here’s the text of the agreement itself. It starts off with some aspirational language about all sides refraining from violence and expressions of hatred. It then proceeds to call for amnesty for all protesters provided they vacate the occupied government buildings—this part seems to be targeted at pro-Russian protesters—but also demands that all groups be disarmed and that they vacate public spaces. That last part is also targeted at pro-Russian protesters, but presumably also forces the authorities in Kiev to crack down on the stragglers on the Maidan, where armed protesters are still camped out. An OSCE mission is to help in facilitating all of the above.Maybe this all works out as planned, and Russia will play nice once its fears about “fascists” in Kiev are allayed. But pay attention to what Vladimir Putin was saying in his highly choreographed, televised Q&A session with Russia’s people earlier today:
“Can a compromise be found on the Ukrainian question between Russia and America?” Mr. Putin asked. “Compromise should only be found in Ukraine,” he said. “The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It’s New Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there — we need to encourage them to find a solution.”
“New Russia” (Novorossyia in Russian) is an historical term from Russian imperial times. With Putin having recently made noises about the importance of Russia maintaining access to Transnistria, it’s not so farfetched to assume that Vladimir is thinking big here.And as Lilia Shevtsova noted in a piece for us earlier this week, one mustn’t analyze Putin’s motives without considering his situation at home. The fact that Putin is using this kind of imperial language for domestic consumption should put even the most sanguine of optimists on notice.