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Ukraine government, protesters nearing a deal. Will it last?

European officials say the two sides are nearing an agreement that would include reduced presidential powers and early elections in December.

Olga Yakimovich/Reuters
People listen to police officers from Lviv who have joined antigovernment protesters as they speak from a stage during a rally in Independence Square in Kiev. Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych announced concessions to his pro-European opponents on Friday, including a plan to hold early elections, but it was unclear whether the opposition would accept such an EU-mediated deal to end a violent crisis.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych announced that all-night talks between the government, protesters, European Union foreign ministers, and representatives from Russia have led to a deal to end violence that has rocked this post-Soviet nation. 

Diplomats told Reuters that a compromise "involved appointing a transitional government, with a reformed constitution by September reducing presidential powers, and fresh elections by the end of the year."

It comes as the European Union finally agreed to issue sanctions against members of the Ukrainian government.

“Negotiations on the settlement of the political crisis in Ukraine between President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, leaders of the opposition, EU, and Russian representatives have finished,” a statement from the president’s office said. A deal could be signed as early as Friday morning local time.

In a separate announcement posted four hours later, President Yanukovych said that he is moving ahead with initiating early elections and a return to the 2004 constitution, as well as the creation of "the government of national trust."  

But the European ministers involved in the talks, including France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland, urged caution.

"The opposition wants to consult with some of its members, which is entirely understandable," Mr. Fabius said on Europe 1 radio Friday morning. “In this sort of situation, as long as things haven't really been wrapped up, it's important to remain very cautious.”

On Twitter, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said that talks are underway

But even if a deal is reached, it’s unclear if it will be accepted and respected. "This is just another piece of paper. We will not leave the barricades until Yanukovich steps down. That's all people want," Anton Solovyov, an IT worker protesting in the central square of Kiev, told Reuters.

Thursday marked the bloodiest day in a confrontation that began in November, after Mr. Yanukovych walked away from an association agreement with the EU, bowing to Russian pressure. Just hours earlier, a truce had been declared between protesters and government authorities who have battled for control of the country.

The dramatic escalation of violence this week moved the EU to issue sanctions on Thursday, after weeks of resistance. The sanctions would target Ukrainian officials believed to be behind the widespread violence.

The EU's decision comes a day after the US revoked visas for 20 Ukrainian officials. In a White House statement, the US said: “We are outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people."

For some, EU sanctions came too late. “Sanctions would have been more effectual if EU member states would have agreed some weeks ago on using the sanctions threat as a diplomatic tool in order to deter the regime from using large-scale violence against protesters, something it did yesterday,” Ulrich Speck, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, told The Christian Science Monitor.

The EU is using a two-thronged approach – sanctions and diplomacy – in its efforts to bring both sides in Ukraine to a deal. But Mr. Speck says this might not be enough. He says the EU and US must come together in a more targeted effort to counter Russian pressure in Ukraine.

“There is a chance that a common transatlantic push might convince Moscow to give up support for Yanukovych. But this has to be done at the highest levels in Washington and Berlin. The West must be ready to send a clear warning to Moscow, or accept that Ukraine is going to slip further into violence,” he says. “This is a new geopolitical game, and so far the Western response has been limited to a day-to-day reaction to events on the ground in Ukraine. EU powers and the US must forge a joint approach, work out a plan, and get ahead of the curve.”

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