Hagel, Ukrainian Counterpart Reestablish Contact in Wake of Peace Deal

Officials said earlier this week that U.S. phone calls to top security officials weren’t being answered.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens to a speaker before testifying on Syria to the House Armed Services Committee on September 10, 2013.
National Journal
Feb. 21, 2014, 1:59 p.m.

Ukrain­i­an De­fense Min­is­ter Pavlo Lebedev prom­ised De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel on Fri­day that the coun­try’s mil­it­ary won’t be used against pro­test­ers — a key con­cern for U.S. of­fi­cials as ten­sions es­cal­ated over the past week.

The phone call came after U.S. State and De­fense de­part­ment of­fi­cials said earli­er this week that they had been un­able to reach seni­or se­cur­ity-force lead­ers, in­clud­ing Lebedev. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press sec­ret­ary, said Thursday that Hagel had been try­ing to con­tact Lebedev dir­ectly.

A seni­or State De­part­ment of­fi­cial said Wed­nes­day that they were “par­tic­u­larly con­cerned “¦ by the chan­ging of the guard” at the mil­it­ary bar­racks.

But Lebedev said the de­ploy­ment of the coun­try’s armed forces “has been fo­cused on pro­tect­ing de­fense fa­cil­it­ies and equip­ment, and that his forces would not use arms against the Ukrain­i­an people,” ac­cord­ing to a readout from Kirby.

The con­ver­sa­tion fol­lows an an­nounce­ment from Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych that a peace agree­ment has been reached with op­pos­i­tion forces. The peace deal in­cludes a res­tor­a­tion of the 2004 con­sti­tu­tion, which the par­lia­ment has already en­acted; the form­a­tion of a na­tion­al unity gov­ern­ment; and con­sti­tu­tion­al re­forms, in­clud­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion, to be com­pleted by Septem­ber, the State De­part­ment of­fi­cial said.

Though the deal marks a sharp turn from the vi­ol­ence this week that left ap­prox­im­ately 77 people dead, the of­fi­cial ad­ded that it “is a very, very fra­gile agree­ment des­pite the pro­cess.” The two sides had called for a truce on Wed­nes­day, but that was quickly dis­rup­ted by an­oth­er wave of fight­ing.

Pres­id­ent Obama also spoke with Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin on Fri­day. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, a bulk of the call was on the Ukraine and was “con­struct­ive,” with both sides agree­ing that the deal needs to be im­ple­men­ted quickly and pledging to stay en­gaged.

White House spokes­man Jay Car­ney praised the deal, say­ing, “We sup­port the ef­forts of all those who ne­go­ti­ated this agree­ment, com­mend the cour­ageous op­pos­i­tion lead­ers who re­cog­nized the need for com­prom­ise, and of­fer the sup­port of the United States in its im­ple­ment­a­tion.”

But Car­ney warned that the United States re­mains “pre­pared to im­pose ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions as ne­ces­sary.”

A bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors called earli­er this week for sanc­tions against Ukra­ni­an of­fi­cials tied to the re­cent crack­down, and For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Bob Cork­er said Fri­day that the United States “should have sanc­tions ready in case there is re­newed vi­ol­ence or Ya­nukovych’s gov­ern­ment fails to pro­ceed in good faith.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Wed­nes­day blocked ap­prox­im­ately 20 Ukrain­i­an of­fi­cials, who it says are tied to the gov­ern­ment’s re­cent crack­down, from ob­tain­ing a visa to travel to the United States.

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