Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ukraine: Russia advances its creeping-federalization agenda

Ukraine: Doors open for Putin
Today, much to the surprise of some, a public agreement was announced by the US, Russia, EU and current Ukraine government, dealing with concrete steps to move the matter forward.

The following is the full text of that agreement, with the most important part (in my view) bolded:

Geneva Statement of April 17, 2014
The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens.

All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism.

All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.

Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.

It was agreed that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these de-escalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days. The U.S., E.U. and Russia commit to support this mission, including by providing monitors.

The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments.

The participants underlined the importance of economic and financial stability in Ukraine and would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov commented that a rose is a rose is a rose, according to this tweet on that site:

Lavrov re federalization: we aren't stuck on terms; there are unitary states where regions have wider power than in federalized states.

Lavrov also went on record that Ukraine cannot join NATO, as per this tweet of his comment:

Lavrov is asked about Ukraine's intention to remain a neutral state, not part of any military bloc.

Lavrov says there's a law in Ukraine that declares it a neutral state and says Russia "was determined to preserve this status."

"As for neutrality in the political or military terms, I don't really understand what political neutrality means... I'm not sure really it can exist in the modern world."

It is clear that the Ukraine government will have difficulty disarming the militia in the Kiev- controlled portion of the country; once again, Lavrov was clear in his comment per another tweet:

"Only the police and the army should have the weapons," Lavrov says.

The New York Times points out what the agreement does not cover:

But the agreement, described in a joint statement, does not specifically require Russia to remove the approximately 40,000 troops it has on Ukraine’s border, as President Obama has demanded.

Nor does it commit Russia to holding direct talks with the interim Ukrainian government, which has been another American demand. The agreement also does not mention the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula last month.

Shades of Hilary

The venue for the meeting was also interesting:

The talks were held at the same luxury hotel where five years ago Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was then serving as the secretary of state, presented Mr. Lavrov with a red “reset” button intended to signal a fresh start in the White House’s relations with the Kremlin.

The Trend of the Negotiations

Russia keeps the pressure on Ukraine by keeping massed troops on the border (after another bout of purely symbolic withdrawals).

An international group – including representatives from the US, EU and Russia – will roam the country to see if the pledge to disarm militias is being honoured. Expect the Russian observers to rush to Kiev and parts West and raise the alarm about the far right militias, who will be resisting disarmament, while the US will focus on the Eastern militia and the men in green. This observer role now internationalizes the solution-process by morphing the Us versus Them (good guys versus bad guys) that have pitted the US/EU against Russia, into an Observer versus Internal Ukranian Bad Guys. Expect the observer group to form the nucleus of an enforcement group (if one is needed to protect the final agreement that will be reached), armed as appropriate to prevent militias being reformed.

Russia still holds to the position that the current Kiev government is illegal and does not recognize its mandate, nor the presidential election. Also, Russia will be talking to the Ukranian Kiev government through its proxies under the deal now struck, instead of direct Russia-Ukraine talks. Such direct talks were top of the list for the US/EU and Kiev government ever since the revolution took place in Kiev. Score another one for Putin.

The most important result is that the process of constitutional change is now taken away from the unilateral Ukranian government hands, and placed in the hands of all the “regions and political constituencies” in Ukraine. This means those pesky Eastern provinces will be seated at the table along with Kiev government representatives.

If you want to see whether peace will come without guns firing, keep your eyes focused on the constitutional amendment process – the part I underlined in the statement above.

That is where the rubber is hitting the road.

It has been widened to require many more parties to be at the table.

It has been widened to require amendments to be allowed – expect many such to be tabled to the Kiev government’s half-hearted and one-sided constitutional reforms tabled so far.

A critical aspect here is who controls the day to day policing of the regions. Will the police force be run from Kiev (as well as the army), or will each region run its own decentralized police force? My money is on the latter.

Will each region run the courts, and the issuing of criminal laws, or will Kiev control this? My money is on the regions.

Will each region have substantial rights to levy taxes, ranking alongside the central Kiev government? I expect this to happen.

Will major foreign policy issues require some form of majority agreement of the regions, and not just be a Kiev based government decision?

Will residual powers be given to the regions or retained by the Kiev government? These can be telling, depending on what is not specifically laid out in the final agreement constitution.

And, a deal breaker for Russia, which I expect Russia to win or to send its troops into the eastern provinces, will the referendum approving the agreed, revised constitution be subject to majority approval (as Kiev wants, knowing their are more Ukranian speakers than Russian speakers in the country), or to approval in each of the various regions.

Interesting events.

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