Ukraine’s impasse

It had seemed all too easy at the time. In truth, it appears as if the Geneva deal last week, which was supposed to see all illegal armed groups in eastern Ukraine disarm, was easy to agree precisely because noone intended to implement it. The important thing was to be seen to talk, and to delay new sanctions – it would allow both Russia and Kiev afterwards, as they did, to maintain that they simply do not control the militias on the ground.

Yesterday, echoing similar criticism of themselves from Washington 24 hours beforehand, Moscow was berating Kiev for continuing “to insist only on the need for Ukrainian citizens protecting their rights in southeastern Ukraine to disarm” – a reference to pro-Russian separatists. Meanwhile, it said, far-right Ukrainian nationalists continue to mobilise unhindered.

Increasingly, photographic evidence also confirms, that despite Moscow’s repeated denials, masked Russian special forces are operating inside Ukraine, the organising spirit of many of the occupations of official buildings whose evacuation was also supposedly part of the deal. Militants actually seized more buildings last weekend. In truth neither side is disarming in this violent, edgy stand-off that has now claimed several lives, and, daily, there are more reports of abductions and disappearances. Responsibility here is murky.

It is clear, however, that extremists in the pro-Russian camp are driving the occupations and appointing themselves heads of supposedly independent micro-regions, mandated , they insist, by support in their communities. But opinion polling suggests a more complex pattern of allegiances. A poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology in eight southern and eastern provinces found that 54 per cent believe Russia is “illegally interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs” while 72 per cent say they do not support the “actions of those who seize administrative buildings in your region with weapons in hand”.


A poll, by the Donetsk Institute for Social Research and Political Analysis found that 47 per cent want federalisation of the country, or at least more economic independence from Kiev, 27 per cent want to join Russia in some form, and 5 per cent want national independence.

With a substantial majority of the eastern population apparently favouring maintaining the national integrity of Ukraine, albeit federalised, the challenge now is to create an acceptable forum inside the country in which such an outcome can be articulated and then negotiated without being hijacked. There is a possible role there for international mediation – the OSCE might be a vehicle – but more talks involving Russia, the EU, the US, and Kiev may be pointless. If a road to a peaceful reconciliation is to be found, it will be found by Ukrainians themselves in Donetsk, not Geneva.