Skip to main content

Can Ukraine sustain fragile peace?

By Steven Pifer
updated 8:13 PM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, cheer Friday, February 21, after news of an agreement between the government and opposition leaders. Violence recently intensified in Kiev's Independence Square, which has been the center of anti-government protests for the past few months. Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, cheer Friday, February 21, after news of an agreement between the government and opposition leaders. Violence recently intensified in Kiev's Independence Square, which has been the center of anti-government protests for the past few months.
HIDE CAPTION
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
Unrest in Ukraine
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ukraine's president and opposition have reached a deal to end violence
  • It's fragile, says Steven Pifer, but it is the best deal available to Ukraine right now
  • The deal restores the 2004 constitution and calls for a new unity government
  • Pifer: Russia may undermine the deal, but the U.S. and EU must work to bolster it

Editor's note: Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000.

(CNN) -- After three days of horrifying images from Kiev, February 21 brought tentative good news from the Ukrainian capital. President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, Oleh Tyahnybok and Arseniy Yatsenyuk concluded an agreement on a political settlement. If it holds, it offers Ukrainians a peaceful path out of the crisis that has gripped their country for the past three months.

But the agreement is fragile. It will encounter opposition from within Ukraine. Indeed, protestors on the Maidan are already calling for Yanukovych's immediate removal. The Russians may try to undermine it. But the United States and European Union must work to make it succeed; it is the best bet that Ukraine now has.

Steven Pifer
Steven Pifer

It comes at a moment when the crisis had reached the brink of chaos. There had been three days of violent clashes between demonstrators and police, the threat by Security Services of a nationwide "anti-terrorist operation," and images, splashed across the media, of Berkut riot police firing on demonstrators. At least 75 died and hundreds were injured in the capital.

The Polish, German and French foreign ministers arrived on February 20. Their mission was bolstered by reports that the European Union later that day would impose visa and financial sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the use of force (this came a day after Washington announced that it was banning visas for 20 regime officials).

The EU foreign ministers met with the opposition leaders, then with Yanukovych. All came together for discussions that ran through the night. They were joined by Vladimir Lukin, the former Russian human rights ombudsman, hastily dispatched to Kiev by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Yanukovych and the opposition leaders reached and initialed a tentative agreement the morning of February 21. After the opposition leaders consulted with a council representing the protesters, the agreement was signed. Among the key points:

-- Adoption of a law to restore the 2004 constitution, which will provide for more of a balance of power between the Rada (Ukraine's parliament) and prime minister on the one hand, and the president on the other. The current constitution favors the president.

-- Formation of a national unity government within 10 days.

-- Further constitutional reform to be completed by September.

Ukraine agreement signed
iReporters share their stories from Kiev
EU freezes key Ukranians' assets
Flash Brief: Protests around the globe

-- Early presidential elections, to be held once the constitutional reform is completed, but no later than December.

The agreement provides a road map for Ukraine to move forward to normalize the country's political life. The result would be a greater balance in power between the legislative and executive branches of government, and between the prime minister -- who presumably will come from the opposition ranks or will be someone acceptable to the opposition -- and the president.

It likely means that Yanukovych will be a one-term president. His poll numbers already were severely sagging last year. The events of the past three months will make it all but impossible for him to win reelection in a free and fair process.

The settlement also may mean that Ukraine will move to sign an association agreement with the European Union. It was Yanukovych's decision in November not to sign that triggered the initial protests; they morphed into an expression of broader public discontent with the government corruption and authoritarian trends that have characterized Yanukovych's four years as President.

The Rada wasted little time in acting on the settlement. Members cast 386 votes in favor of a proposal to return to the 2004 constitution (a constitutional majority requires only 300).

But the deal remains vulnerable. Some in Yanukovych's inner circle will see it as a threat to their personal political and economic interests; they may seek to undo it. Many demonstrators will question why Yanukovych, whom they hold responsible for those killed, should remain in office another day, let alone perhaps until the end of the year.

And a particularly ominous note came from Russia. Lukin joined the Polish, German and French foreign ministers in initialing the draft agreement as a witness. However, after reportedly consulting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, he did not attend the signing ceremony and did not sign the final agreement. What that says about Moscow's view of the agreement remains to be seen, but it is hardly a positive sign.

Should the agreement put Kiev back on course to deepen its relationship with the European Union, expect the Kremlin to look for ways to undermine it.

The European Union, whose engagement on Ukraine has often appeared frustratingly cautious, deserves considerable credit for its role. Having foreign ministers from three major EU member states in Kiev -- backed by a threat of EU sanctions -- undoubtedly helped bring the Ukrainian sides to agreement.

The European Union and Washington must now do all they can to bolster the agreement and to work with Ukrainians to pursue its implementation. The alternative -- a return to the violence of earlier this week -- in unthinkable.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steven Pifer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT