The World

What’s a Peace Deal Worth in Ukraine These Days?

Pro-Russian militant of the so-called ‘Eastern battalion’ check passing cars as they stand guard at a checkpoint on the road from Donetsk to Mariupol on May 15, 2014. 

Photo by Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images

The good news is that violence seems to have died down in Eastern Ukraine while talks are being held in Kiev about devolving more power to the country’s regional governments. Earlier this week, six soldiers were killed in the Slavyansk region in an apparent ambush by pro-Russian separatists.

But there’s still good reason to be suspicious that the talks, supported by the U.S., Europe and Russia, will come to much, especially as the separatist rebels are not participating. Ukrainian officials say they would be willing to speak with separatists, just not those with “blood on their hands,” but the main issue at hand here is the guys with guns, and it’s hard to see how talks held without them will accomplish more than the deal brokered by John Kerry in April.

Under that deal, negotiated between Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the EU, the armed groups were supposed to give up the buildings and towns they were occupying. They did not. Last week, Vladimir Putin said the rebels delay a planned independence referendum. They did not.  

So either the rebels are operating with more independence from Moscow than people realized, or Russia wants it to seem that way, publicly distancing itself from the armed separatists while allowing them to continue to destabilize the country ahead of planned presidential elections on May 25.

(To be fair, agreements signed by pro-European leaders without the input of the rank-and-file have also had pretty short shelf lives.) 

It’s possible that the talks, if the participants are genuine in their aim of devolving more power to the regions, could help the government’s extremely low credibility among voters in the east, who seem – despite their discontent – to mostly want to remain Ukrainians.

But it’s hard to imagine the “little green men” are paying all that much attention.