Detente in Ukraine? New Talks Show Promise of De-Escalation

John Kerry visits the Shrine of the Fallen in Independence Square, Kiev, on Tuesday. (Photograph: Sipa USA/Rex)

Detente in Ukraine? New Talks Show Promise of De-Escalation

After day of sharp words and threats, Russia speaking with both US and NATO in separate meetings on Wednesday

One day after trading a series of contentious remarks and veiled threats, the U.S. and Russia are preparing to come together in talks over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine with Secretary of State John Kerry now scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris on Wednesday.

In a separate meeting in Brussels, a Russian delegation will also meet with its NATO counterparts as European nations try to find a way to tamp down the tensions with Russia's President Vladimir Putin over the overthrow of the government in Kiev and the military intervention in Crimea.

Plans for direct talks between the new government in Ukraine and Russia, according to reports, are for now on hold.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has responded to a request from Kiev by sending "35 unarmed military personnel" who are reportedly on their way to capitol city to act as observers amid the ongoing crisis and oversee aspects of the transitional government. Observers from both the US and UK are included in that delegation.

The announcement of these diplomatic developments overnight and early Wednesday have seemed to calmed the nerves of many around the world as the threat of immediate escalation, especially of a military nature, has dissipated.

Hopes for the kind of detente that may or may not be forthcoming was the basis for an editorial by The Nation magazine overnight, which called for "common sense" on the highly-charged situation as it chastised hawks in Washington for clamoring for military action and the pundit class for running fast and loose in their prognostications on Ukraine. The editorswrote:

The pundit class needs a strong dose of realism and common sense. It's absurd to scold Obama for "taking the stick option off the table"--the unavoidable fact is that he has no stick in relation to Ukraine. Americans have no desire and no reason to go to war with Russia over Crimea, and the EU and the United States are not about to supplant Russia's economic influence in Ukraine. Washington is not going to provide the aid, the trade or the subsidized energy that Ukraine needs, and the EU--which is still mired in a deep economic crisis of its own--doesn't have the means to offer Ukraine much beyond painful austerity. An unpopular Ukrainian leader has been unseated, but the new government is not elected, not legitimate and not at all settled. The international community should be pushing hard for compromise, before this fragile and bitterly divided country breaks apart.

Frustrated cold warriors filling armchairs in the outdated "strategic" think tanks that litter Washington will continue to howl at the moon, but American policy should be run by the sober. The president should work with the EU and Russia to preserve Ukraine's territorial unity, support free elections and allow Ukraine to be part of both the EU and the Russian customs union, while pledging that NATO will not extend itself into Ukraine. It is time to reduce tensions and create possibility, not draw lines, flex rhetorical muscles and fan the flames of folly.

Those responding positively to this line of thinking, both inside and outside of Ukraine, may have something to welcome if talks on Wednesday can offer progress without violence.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.