Joint Statement Underscores US-Russia Divide on Ukraine

Wording Means Two Very Different Things to Nations

A Geneva meeting today on Ukraine ended with a joint statement by the US, European Union, Russia and Ukraine on how to deescalate the situation, which on the surface read like the US demands of the past several days.

And while the Obama Administration will undoubtedly interpret the statement as a victory for its demands of unilateral surrender by eastern protesters, the very different interpretations of the situation mean the language will likely mean something entirely else to Russia.

Calls to vacate “illegally occupied streets” would mean ending the protests, to the US, but it isn’t clear that public protests are illegal in those cities to begin with, and Russia is likely to consider the demonstrations largely lawful.

Likewise, the call to unilaterally surrender “illegally seized buildings” and return them to “legitimate owners” undoubtedly focuses on government buildings. But the US will interpret it is demanding protesters surrender buildings they’ve occupied to the interim government, while Russia has made a point of not considering Ukraine’s interim government “legitimate” at all.

Russia has been pushing for an increasingly federated system in Ukraine, with more autonomy for local regions, and is likely to push to have the buildings at least formally handed over to the local governments, which are largely sympathetic to the protesters at any rate.

For Western nations, including pejorative wording about “illegal” protests and the “legitimate” government was probably seen as a way to needle Russia about the situation. Yet ultimately those extra words are making what is expected to happen across Ukraine more vague and open to interpretation. The end result is likely going to be more public disputes back and forth, and both sides accusing the other of reneging on the deal.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of