EU Commission hopeful of Russia-Ukraine thaw as many in Kyiv denounce ‘capitulation’

Ukrainians hold banner reading 'Deoccupation but not capitulation!' during their protest against signing 'Steinmeier formula' in Minsk, near of the Presidential office in Kiev, Ukraine, 2 October 2019. [Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA/EFE]

The European Commission commended on Thursday (3 October) a recent diplomatic meeting in the Belarus capital Minsk, which gives hope for an international summit to stop the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. But many in Ukraine see the development as “capitulation”.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Envoys from Moscow and Kyiv agreed at talks on Tuesday on an election schedule for the separatist region and on legislation giving it special status.

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EURACTIV asked the European Commission to comment on the development.

Spokesperson Carlos Martin Ruiz de la Gordehuela said the Minsk deliberations of the trilateral group, including those related to the so-called Steinmeier formula, were “a step that could hopefully lead to further efforts toward the full implementation of the Minsk agreements by all parties”.

The spokesperson added that this was key for reaching a lasting solution to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

A controversial formula

The formula is named after the then German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who tried in 2016 to find an exit from the impasse with the implementation of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015.

The Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine is a group of representatives from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that was formed as a means to facilitate a diplomatic resolution to the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

The president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian, seems to be walking a tightrope with the ‘Steinmeier formula’. Moreover, his involvement in the scandal in the US which has led to a Democrat-led impeachment probe against US President Donald Trump is not helping him, domestically or internationally.

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The issue is that in Ukraine, many oppose the Steinmeier formula as it is seen as too favourable for Russia. In a nutshell, Steinmeier tried to simplify the Minsk agreements, however, the sequencing of the events remains unclear and subject to controversy.

As RFE/RL reported, Ukrainian veterans and opposition political parties, as well as some civil-society groups and Ukrainian ultranationalists, are opposed against the Steinmeier Formula. Many of them accuse Zelenskiy of treason and side with former President Petro Poroshenko, who has warned that any openings to Russia would mean capitulation.

Specifically, Steinmeier’s formula calls for elections to be held in the separatist-held territories under Ukrainian legislation and the supervision of the OSCE. If the OSCE judges the ballot to be free and fair, a special self-governing status for the territories will be initiated and Ukraine will be returned control of its easternmost border.

Zelenskiy, however, says there will be no elections in Donbas before pro-Russian forces are withdrawn and Ukraine regains control of its state border.

Many see the role of French President Emmanuel Macron behind the efforts to put an end to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and normalise the relations with Russia. A summit is expected by mid-October, possibly in Paris, in the Normandy format (Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany).

The Commission said the EU has consistently supported the work of the Normandy format, the trilateral contact group and the OSCE, in their efforts to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

The spokesperson added that the EU remains steadfast in fully supporting the independence, sovereignty and territorial independence of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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