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Leonid Bershidsky

Only Ukraine Can Make Peace Happen

Only the Ukrainian government can turn an uneasy truce into a lasting peace. 
Is Oleksandr Turchynov all talk, no action? Photographer: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
Is Oleksandr Turchynov all talk, no action? Photographer: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

If the Ukrainian government in Kiev thinks that the truce signed last week in Geneva will make pro-Russian rebels go away, it had better think again.

Developments before and since the Geneva agreement, signed on April 17, demonstrate that Ukraine is a genuinely divided nation, in which Russian interference is merely a catalyst of resentment. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, led by the pedantic German diplomat Klaus Zillikens, have reported that neither side is following the agreement. As of April 19, pro-Russian rebels were still holding on to buildings in Donetsk, Lugansk and surrounding small towns, and Ukrainian "self-defense" paramilitaries in Dnepropetrovsk and Kherson were refusing to give up weapons or "regularize."

This should come as no surprise, given that no one in Geneva fully represented the sides in the actual conflict. The interim government is uneasy about the paramilitaries left over from the Maidan revolution that brought it to power. Russia has never admitted it had enough influence over the rebels in the east to make them lay down their arms. To Zillikens the stickler for precision, Russian presence in eastern Ukraine is not even an established fact. "There are signs that foreign consultants worked in Ukrainian territory," he told Echo Moskvy radio. "We do not, however, have any clear proof of that."

The government in Kiev seems to be hoping that without Russian support, the rebels in eastern Ukraine will eventually get bored and disperse. The OSCE report notes that in Mariupol, near Donetsk, two of three groups that held the local government building left after the Geneva deal because they felt betrayed. "This is a truce that allows us to rest and replenish strength," pro-government columnist Vitaly Portnikov wrote on liga.net. There is no talk in Kiev about negotiating a compromise -- just more anti-Moscow rhetoric such as acting President Oleksandr Turchynov's statement late on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's goal was "to eliminate independent Ukraine."