Saturday, February 22, 2014


President Viktor Yanukovych has reluctantly agreed to a European-brokered deal.  Early presidential elections, empowering parliament, are supposed to facilitate a transition. His political nemesis Yulia Tymoshenko was freed but the opposition remains largely unconvinced, despite amnesty and an investigation into the violence.

The German, French and Polish midwives of the deal wanted to halt a massacre in the making or the repeat of a Prague scenario by proxy. The Polish foreign minister argued that the agreement was the only tool left to stop the army going in with all the dire consequences one might expect.

The protesters in the Maidan remain frustrated.  The president did not resign and the shadow of Putin clouds a possible "closure".   At the same time the opposition leader Vitaly Klitsschko, who signed the deal, finds himself in a Kerensky redux situation, having signed up to an agreement with an unreliable president while Ukraine continues to depend on Russia for fuel and as a market for its goods.  Mr. Yanukovych remains uncontested in the industrial east of the country. The $15 billion which were promised by Putin after Ukraine's about-face regarding the EU might become more virtual than real, if it were to make an EU pivot.

In the short run the protesters scored. There remains the danger of a country split in two and of an opposition which will have to deal with the hard liners in its midst, who feel deprived of a full-fledged victory.  President Putin is surely suffering from a hang-over while his rather robotized, soulless Olympic Games come to an end.  He is not the "forgiving" type. 

The real looser is the Obama administration. The patronizing or undiplomatic ways of Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State, and the usual "calling from behind" from the President are totally unconvincing.  The American Secretary of Defense was unable to get through to his Ukrainian counterpart, which shows how the American exceptionalism or relevance seem dented. Certain situations demand a historic and diplomatic savoir-faire or pressure (remember Holbrooke?) which are now outsourced to amateurs. The real danger is that the outside world is starting to doubt the ability of the United States to act, negotiate, intervene as the indispensable power it was.  Since the first Gulf war, America is more and more considered an unpredictable, misguided, often nonchalant partner.  The current Secretary of State looks almost isolated, trying to be relevant while the President continues to skate on ice that gets thinner by the day.  It is laudable to avoid the repeat of former costly and existentially devastating armed conflicts but Ukraine is also about a moral choice besides geo-political relevance. The Europeans came forward with some form of half-baked resolution (?) but the American Pontius Pilate chose the phone over the deed.  So much for the city on the is close to becoming Vali Nasr's "dispensable nation".

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