As we summarized late on Friday, while Europe has been banging the populist drums over ever-escalating Russian sanctions, it quietly and without much fanfare folded in the one place where Russia could have been truly hurt, the Free Trade (DFCTA) agreement between Ukraine and the EU. But while Europe would have loved for nobody to notice, some did, and not just on these pages: far more importantly, so did the citizens of Ukraine where as the WSJ reports, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko faces rising criticism for his decision to delay implementation of part of a European Union deal to avoid threatened Russian retaliation.
And this is why neither side can afford to blink, because the moment one side folds, its domestic support collapses. And blinking is precisely what Ukraine just did and with that it set in motion the events that will likely terminate prematurely the brief, irrelevant presidency of Ukraine's "Chocolate Baron" Poroshenko.
A senior diplomat resigned in protest over the weekend, and pro-European politicians who are competing with Mr. Poroshenko's party in parliamentary elections next month blasted the decision as caving to Russia, which wants Ukraine to give up the deal and remain in its orbit. The tensions highlight how difficult it will be for Mr. Poroshenko to manage the competing pressures of a Kremlin that isn't backing down and a domestic electorate that wants closer ties to Europe and no concessions to Moscow.
On Friday, Ukraine and the EU agreed to put off implementing a landmark trade deal, which is part of a broader pact aimed at strengthening their ties, after Moscow threatened trade restrictions that would have crippled Ukraine's already limping economy.
A cease-fire in the east, where Russia-backed rebels hold several towns and cities, is still largely holding despite scattered fighting. A government spokesman said Sunday that Ukrainian troops had repelled an assault on Donetsk airport by 200 pro-Russia rebels.
In Kiev, pro-Western rivals of Mr. Poroshenko's party railed against the president's move to compromise at congresses to announce candidates for snap parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 26.
It got so bad over the weekend, that former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was the person least actively supported by the CIA and US state department in Ukraine's less than peaceful transition in February, and thus lost a May presidential election to Mr. Poroshenko, said the delay in implementing the EU free-trade part of the pact until 2016 was "a betrayal of national interests."
"There can't be a single day of applying the brakes on our path to Europe," she told a party meeting. She also called a referendum on potential membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
So as the public mood suddenly and dramatically shifts in its impotent rage directed at Putin up until this point, into a domestic direction in general, and at the new president in particular, Poroshenko appears set to antagonize the public even more, following his disclosure moments ago that he proposes temporary self-governance in separatist-held areas in eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, news service Ukrayinska Pravda reports, citing copy of draft law. Bloomberg has the details:
- Local elections would be held in those districts this yr on Nov. 9
- Local authorities in special districts would have right to participate in appointment of local prosecutors, judges
- People’s militia would be created from local citizens in special districts
- Kiev authorities wouldn’t open criminal cases against participants of uprising in east
- Kiev guarantees right to use, learn Russian language; grants it equal status in special areas, for all Ukrainian citizens
- Ukraine to allocate annual budget spending to rebuild infrastructure, create jobs, back economical development of eastern regions
- Ukraine to allow areas’ “good neighborly relations” w/ Russia to deepen and strengthen
- Law, if approved, to remain in effect for 3 yrs from date of approval
- Parliament may consider draft law among other issues on Sept. 16
- Lawmakers have received copy of draft
And this is how the Ukraine people, at least those in the west and who care about such things, will interpret the move: Poroshenko is handing over East Ukraine to Russia which will now control not only Crimea but also the land corridor leading to it.
The only question we have here is what the over/under is on number of days before Ukraine has yet another presidential crisis, and whether the next president will also be another US-backed puppet?