After days of intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine, the United States, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine reached a tentative agreement designed to lower tensions in the eastern European country.
On Thursday, following a lightning round of talks in Geneva, the Western powers agreed to hold off on new economic sanctions against Russia as a part of a deal that calls for the disarming of illicitly armed groups and the evacuation of buildings taken by pro-Russian mobs. Washington has accused Russian intelligence operatives and special forces of aiding and arming the mobs, a charge Moscow denies.
The deal requires all sides to avoid provocations and cease any violent behavior. It tasks monitors with the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe with helping Ukraine and local authorities implement the agreement. Looking to Ukraine’s future, it also says Kiev intends to transfer more power to regional authorities, a key demand of both Moscow and the protest leaders in eastern Ukraine. The agreement doesn’t require Russia to withdraw any of the 80,000 troops it has massed along the Ukrainian border, which have sparked fears of a potential Russian invasion.
In a joint news conference with E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Secretary of State John Kerry called the agreement a "good day’s work," but stressed that Russia must do its part in de-escalating the crisis. Specifically, Kerry noted Moscow’s outsized influence over the pro-Russian mobs destabilizing eastern Ukraine. "It is important that these words are translated immediately into actions," he said. He warned that if Moscow doesn’t comply with the agreement in the next few days "we will have no choice but to impose further costs on Russia."
At a separate news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the crisis is for Ukrainians to settle for themselves with long-term constitutional reform, but noted that the OSCE mission "should play a lead role" going forward. Those remarks came after Russian President Vladimir Putin chided the West’s interference in Ukraine and expressed hope that he wouldn’t have to send troops into the country. Lavrov emphasized that Russian-speaking Ukrainians must be protected from discriminatory acts.
Meanwhile, the agreement also provided an incentive for the pro-Russian mobs who have seized government buildings and battled security forces throughout eastern Ukraine to give up their arms. At least four people have died in the ongoing unrest. "Amnesty will be granted to protesters and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes," the statement said.