It hardly represents anything like a settlement of grievances, but the agreement reached in Geneva today by representatives of the U.S., the E.U., Ukraine and Russia appears to have at least temporarily stopped a rapid slide towards armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The statement released by the parties describes it as a de-escalation of tensions:

All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.

All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.

Amnesty will be granted to protesters and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.

In other words, the pro-Russian “protesters” who have been occupying government buildings in Eastern Ukraine will stand down; the Ukrainian government will not arrest them; and the Russians will keep their massed troops from crossing the border. The joint denunciation of “intolerance” and “anti-Semitism” is presumably intended to stop both sides from using claims of “fascism” to justify violence against each other.

The agreement doesn’t mention Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and doesn’t explicitly give Ukraine time to hold its planned May 25 presidential election, though that is almost certainly one benchmark for determining whether this is more than a brief breathing spell. The New York Times‘ Michael Gordon notes other fundamental issues not resolved:

The deeper question was whether the statement issued on Thursday would open the door to a diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis or remain a limited step that bypasses core issues like the degree of federalism in Ukraine, the presence of an intimidating Russian force near Ukraine’s border and Russia’s reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new government.

But as Churchill once said: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” So it’s a better day than many expected for the region.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.