WASHINGTON_Calling it “a good day’s work,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that hours of crisis talks had produced a blueprint for easing tensions in Ukraine, though he warned of new sanctions if Russia didn’t uphold its end of the four-party agreement.
Kerry spoke from the Swiss city of Geneva, where he joined representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in negotiations that ended with all sides calling for the dissolution of outlaw military groups, the return of occupied buildings and amnesty for anti-government protesters.
A European monitoring mission would help with the implementation, which Kerry and his EU counterpart Catherine Ashton said would begin immediately. The deal is a first, fragile diplomatic breakthrough toward curbing the unrest in Ukraine.
“It is absolutely clear now that what is important is that these words are translated immediately into actions. And none of us leave here with the sense that the job is done because the words are on the paper,” Kerry told a news conference. “The job will not be done until these principles are implemented, until they are followed up on.”
Pro-Russian militias and protesters have seized buildings and other government property in eastern Ukraine, pushing the country’s weak interim government toward direct military confrontation with ethnic Russian separatists and their apparent backers across the border. The Geneva deal is designed to stave off that scenario, but it remains to be seen whether Russia will follow through on its pledge to stand down forces, or whether those militias even would heed such orders from Moscow.
“On paper, it’s a big breakthrough for sure and there’s no reason to believe that an agreement like that couldn’t satisfy the interests of fundamentally all sides with significant compromises on all sides. That’s what a diplomatic pact is supposed to look like,” said Jeremy Shapiro, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “But the problem that we have is that the Russian efforts in Ukraine have never been transparent and have always been at least semi-denied, so it becomes difficult to assess whether the Russians are actually adhering to it.”
Russia and Ukraine also have many thorny talks ahead over the degree of autonomy pro-Russian enclaves in Ukraine would enjoy, and on the linchpin issue of energy debts.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Geneva that the talks left him “hopeful,” but he reiterated Moscow’s demand for long-term constitutional reforms that would protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine. The country plunged into crisis following the ouster in February of the pro-Russian president.