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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special  

General election 2015: Not voting makes you responsible for the worst that follows

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk