Almost a small breakthrough in Ukraine

This New York Times piece reflects pretty well just how quickly things changed in Ukraine today. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who for a couple of days has been making positive noises about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s proposed cease-fire with rebels in Donbas, actually asked his parliament to repeal its March 1 resolution authorizing the use of the Russian military in eastern Ukraine. This is a totally symbolic move, as the Times writers note, since parliament will reinstate that authorization if Putin ever asks for it again and, even if it didn’t, Putin would presumably do what he wants anyway. But symbols matter in these situations, so Putin’s request is a welcome sign that tensions are easing between the two countries.

The Times ran a “hey, good news!” article to that effect, and then the Donbas separatists shot down a Ukrainian army helicopter outside of Slovyansk. The article now has all the “hey, good news!” stuff buried beneath three paragraphs about how the actual violence in Donbas isn’t going away. This isn’t that much of a surprise; despite the talk of a ceasefire until Friday the fighting has never actually stopped. The media reports that the separatists keep attacking the Ukrainian forces in violation of the ceasefire, but I think some healthy skepticism is in order on that front. Both sides would have some incentive to chip away at the other side’s position in advance of actual negotiations to end the revolt, and without considerable new aid from Moscow (which doesn’t look to be forthcoming), the rebels are more likely to lose ground the longer the fighting goes on. So while the rebels may be the ones who keep violating the ceasefire, unreliable battlefield reports that have probably been filtered through Kiev are not especially convincing evidence of that theory.

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