Ukraine crisis: This agreement is built on hope, not confidence

 

Share

Were Ukraine a functioning democracy, Friday’s agreement under EU mediation would be significant. But in today’s Ukraine, there is a world of difference between agreements and their implementation.

In appearance, it is a good agreement, committing the authorities to elections in December and an immediate return to the 2004 constitution, which balanced presidential and parliamentary powers. Yet the opposition leaders have accepted it in a spirit of hope rather than confidence. Viktor Yanukovych is not a man who quits. Any power he retains will be used to claw back the power he has lost. So long as he is in office, he will stay in the game and rig the game. On these points, there is no dispute in opposition ranks.

The logic behind Ukraine’s grim drama is simple and stark. Until now, Yanukovych has feared loss of power more than Pyrrhic victory. For him, the stakes go well beyond loss of decision-making authority. They include confiscation of property and wealth, as well as possible imprisonment. The same prospect haunts his key subordinates as well as the oligarchs who have served and profited from his regime.

If the logic is changing, it can be for only one reason: because his pillars of support are crumbling. Had the armed forces been firmly behind him, he would not have dismissed the Chief of General Staff. Had his parliamentary deputies stayed behind him, they would not have demanded that the Berkut (anti-riot police) return to barracks. Once a critical mass concludes that Yanukovych’s cause is lost, the haemorrhage will be too great to control.

Prudence is required for two reasons. First, the tipping point has not been reached yet. So long as Yanukovych retains a measure of control over state resources, financial flows, judges, electoral commissions and means of coercion, there will be everything to play for.

Ukraine is a political honeycomb of patron-client relationships, bound together by money. As long as Yanukovych retains patronage, he will retain power.

Second, the external factor is possibly even more worrying now. The Kremlin perceives a direct connection between the fate of the post-Soviet order in Ukraine and at home. It is also convinced that the target of Western policy in Ukraine is not Yanukovych, but Russia. Vladimir Putin, who understands the coercive power of money more than most, has scarcely concealed his insistence that Yanukovych “restore order”. On 17 February, Russia unblocked the second tranche of its $15bn loan to Ukraine. The following night, the Berkut launched their assault on Independence Square. After yesterday’s talks, disbursements are once again blocked.

The gnawing question is what other means of pressure Russia might exert. On 24 January, General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, declared that the “internationalisation” of the “armed struggle” in Ukraine was a key factor obliging Russia to revise the “complex of measures required to transfer the country to a wartime footing”. His warning is now widely echoed by other well-placed individuals, raising the spectre of Ukraine’s disintegration, threats to Russian “compatriots” and the 2008 Georgia precedent.

Only a short time ago, Ukrainians were asking: “Where is the West?” The perception of “betrayal” has probably been assuaged by the EU’s instrumental role in walking Yanukovych back from the abyss.

But neither the EU nor the West has fully been tested. In the long and tense interregnum between yesterday’s accords and December’s elections, such tests will surely arise.

James Sherr is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and the author of “Hard Diplomacy and Soft Coercion” (2013)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Isis fighters celebrate in Syria’s northern Raqqa province in June after capturing territory in neighbouring  

Islamic State: ‘The world cares nothing’ for Syrian city under Isis siege

Patrick cockburn
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week