Peace talks won’t end Ukraine crisis

The Geneva accord hammered out between Russia and the West last week is already in danger of falling apart, says The Independent. Five people died at a shoot out at a barricade near the pro-Russian town of Slavyansk over the weekend and there is no sign of pro-Russian separatists disarming and evacuating government buildings. This is unsurprising.

The wars in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s have shown that agreements reached in far-off Western Europe have “marginal impact” on the fighters on the ground. Those manning the barricades are “not puppets”, but “impassioned, would-be martyrs” for their causes.

Even if Russia disengaged now, the apparently gathering revolt against Kiev is unlikely to “melt away”. Any peace talks must include the rebels; difficult, as the only umbrella body they have formed, the Donetsk People’s Republic, lacks an identifiable leadership.

Quite, says Chris Huhne in The Observer. Who exactly are the “disciplined, well-armed militants occupying government buildings” in towns in eastern Ukraine? The West and the interim Ukrainian government believe they are under Russian influence. Moscow denies it.

A spokesman for the militants said they will only budge when the Ukrainian government is replaced. The problem with the Geneva deal is that it meant too many things to too many people. It’s all very well to agree that “all illegal groups must be disarmed”, but by whom?

Russia’s denial of any involvement in the seizure of towns such as Slavyansk and Gorlivka seems “implausible”, says The Economist. It says it has no interest in unrest on its border, but actually there are several reasons why it might want to destabilise Ukraine, not least that it doesn’t want Ukraine moving towards Europe.

But occupation would be very expensive: it would involve raising salaries and pensions to Russian levels as promised in Crimea, subsidising the coal mines and funding the bribes “needed to ensure” acquiescence.

Much better to “sabotage” the 25 May presidential elections so as to deprive Ukraine of the elected leadership it needs to restore order, and then gain influence on the government in Kiev by “turning the east into a constant source of trouble which keeps Ukraine chaotic, dysfunctional and unpalatable to the West”.

It’s time for us to act. Nato should announce that it will ramp up its presence and activity in central and eastern Europe. There should be a broad visa ban on powerful Russians; France should cancel the sale of warships to Russia, and Russia could have its access to dollars, euros and sterling cut off.

“This would deprive Russia of revenues from oil and gas exports, priced in dollars, and force it to draw on reserves to pay for most of its imports.” Such financial sanctions would be costly to the West, “but worth it”. “Do any less and the price next time may be even higher.”

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