In marathon talks that ran through the night, Vladimir Putin, Petro Poroshenko, Angela Merkel, and Francois Hollande hammered out the terms of a deal to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. If all goes according to plan (and that remains a big “if”), the fighting will stop on Sunday. Superficially, the deal looks like the last Minsk ceasefire, which for various reasons did not hold. But it differs in some key ways, nearly all of them in Russia’s favor.The ceasefire’s provisions are lopsided: it requires the rebels the pull back behind the lines established in the earlier Minsk ceasefire in September 2014, but requires the government forces to stay a set distance behind the actual lines of control as they now stand. The “facts on the ground” remain, of course, with recent gains implicitly recognized as at least a starting point for negotiations. And these borders will matter, because the regions will be pretty autonomous. The Washington Post has the kicker:
In a major victory for Russia, restoration of Ukrainian control over the border with Russia in separatist-controlled areas is conditional on Ukraine amending its constitution to grant wide powers to the eastern regions, including the right to form their own police force and trade freely with Russia. The deal sets a target date of the end of the year.This gives Russia what it wants most: leverage over its western neighbor, which it can use to prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO. […]In another win for Russia, Ukraine is obliged to restore banking services to the rebel regions and resume social payments, including pensions and salaries of those on the government payroll, including doctors and teachers. No deadline was set. The Ukrainian government froze all budget payments in November.
Why did Kiev give up so much? Its situation was pretty hopeless, and Western creditors were turning the screws. A key detail from Reuters:
The talks took place as an International Monetary Fund mission agreed on a bailout to save Ukraine from bankruptcy. The fund provisionally agreed on a $17.5 billion facility with Ukraine, part of a $40 billion funding package, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said.
As we wrote last week, Ukraine’s plummeting currency value dealt its economy a body blow at a moment when its reserves, at just $6.4 billion, were mere weeks away from drying up. Poroshenko probably didn’t have much choice but to sign on the dotted line, and Putin knew it.This, in effect, gives Putin everything he wanted. Kiev gets to claim its territorial integrity has not been further whittled away, but that’s mostly a pretense. The requirement that Kiev actually change the constitution to grant Luhansk and Donetsk autonomy is designed to ensure that Ukraine can never join NATO, and as with the last ceasefire, there is no mechanism for enforcing the peace (no foreign peace-keeping force, that is). So after all this, Putin still has the power to push the crisis further if he wants.