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Is the Ukraine Crisis Unwinding?

Author: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
June 27, 2014
Wall Street Journal

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This has been the most important week in the Ukraine crisis since Russia seized Crimea, and the news has been mostly good. But it has also carried a warning. The United States and Europe continue to find it hard to coordinate policy, and Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps showing that he can manipulate individual European countries to get his way in the energy business.

First, the good news. With President Petro Poroshenko's cease-fire announcement on Monday, Ukraine began to regain the political initiative. Both Mr. Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have offered support, and even though the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk are sticking to unreasonable demands (such as full withdrawal of Kiev's military forces), Russian enthusiasm for them may be waning. Meanwhile, European Union leaders warned Friday that if Moscow does not push the separatists harder, new sanctions are possible as early as next week. As a further sign of determination to ignore Mr. Putin's threats (remember, Russian gas to Ukraine has been cut off for more than 10 days), President Poroshenko signed the very same agreement with the EU that former president Viktor Yanukovych repudiated in November, triggering months of protest.

All good. Yet this week also brought a reminder of European paralysis and division over energy policy. One of the most important moves Europe has made in response to the crisis has been the threat to stop Russia's South Stream pipeline project, a $45 billion effort to give itself new ways of exporting gas to the EU without crossing Ukrainian territory. When Bulgaria suspended work on the pipeline three weeks ago, the entire project seemed to hang by a thread. Even so, on Tuesday Austria broke ranks with the rest of the EU, welcoming Mr. Putin to Vienna to sign the deal for its share of the work. Its president condemned the EU position, and Mr. Putin exulted that the U.S. cared about the issue only because it wants to steal the European market for its own gas.

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