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Bernd Riegert Photo: DW/Per Henriksen
Bernd Riegert reports on European affairs for DW

A cooling crisis

Bernd Riegert / sms
April 18, 2014

Russia has agreed to stop supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. Finally! Diplomatic talks in Geneva have led to a breakthrough that could de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, says DW's Bernd Riegert.


The Geneva declaration from the European Union, the United States, Ukraine and Russia is a true message of peace for the Easter holidays, which are being celebrated by Western and Orthodox churches simultaneously this year. Now it will depend on whether what was decided actually takes place in the coming days.

This includes disarming the separatists and other illegally armed groups in Ukraine, and clearing occupied administration buildings in eastern and southern Ukraine. All sides have promised to work toward de-escalation, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It's a breakthrough that could lead to a calming of tensions. Ukraine has promised to write into its constitution a form of government that takes into account the concerns of the Russian-speaking population, an issue the government in Kyiv agreed to ahead of the talks. Ukraine's radical right-wing must also give up its weapons, and all forms of anti-Semitism will be investigated.

Lavrov's agreement that Russia will not send any regular troops into eastern Ukraine is especially important. The foreign minister appeared in Geneva in the surprising role of a dove, if you ignored the fact that he still does not recognize the government in Kyiv as the legal successor to former President Viktor Yanukovych. Perhaps the Russians came to realize that an imploding and economically chaotic Ukraine would, over the long term, be more detrimental than useful to Russia. The US and the European Union have been preaching this message for weeks, and it seems that it has been received.

Successful diplomacy can solve crises

Russia's agreement that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should oversee the de-escalation and disarmament process in Ukraine is also welcome. The European Union can hold off on its plans for economic sanctions, for now. Officials in Brussels were relieved that the EU would be saved from having to make the difficult decisions that have the bloc divided. The immediate danger of a stop to gas and oil deliveries has also been avoided. The EU will discuss energy supply issues with Russia and Ukraine and consult on the payment of Ukrainian debts.

It's a victory for democracy, but one that comes at a price. Crimea is now and will remain a part of Russia. The United States, the EU and Ukraine have silently accepted the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Crimea was not mentioned in the Geneva declaration. The Ukraine crisis destroyed much - if not all - of the trust that existed between the West and Russia. Rebuilding that trust will be a long, slow process and a strategic partnership, which the EU had been hoping to develop with Russia for decades, is off the table for the time being.

According to Lavrov, Russia expects that Ukraine will remain neutral and not join any military alliances. That was an easy conciliation to make, as the Ukrainian government was not even planning such a step. US President Barack Obama has also said that NATO has no intentions for Ukraine. Now the time has come from Russia to pull back its 40,000 troops from the Ukrainian border and for NATO to tone down its rhetoric. The long-term deployment of NATO troops in Poland, for example, should be indefinitely put off by the military alliance.

Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the resolutions reached in Geneva needed to be "bold, strong and wise," and this demand has been met. If the agreement is implemented quickly, we can hope for a generally quiet Easter holiday. Lavrov said in Geneva that Ukrainians should be the only ones to decide their fate. Hopefully Russian President Vladimir Putin sees that the same way from his seat in the Kremlin. Has Crimea stilled his hunger for power?

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