KYIV, Oct. 1 – Ukraine on Tuesday accepted a controversial peace plan that calls for holding local elections in occupied regions of Donbas without clearly demanding that Russian troops must leave the territory.
The plan, also known as the Steinmeier Formula, named after German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had suggested it three years ago, was persistently supported by Moscow. Steinmeier is now the German president.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who accepted the plan in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in ending the five-year war, sought to calm down fears from across political spectrum that Ukraine may have ‘capitulated’ to Russia.
Zelenskiy insisted the Steinmeier Formula calls for the local elections to be held in line with Ukrainian laws and under the country’s constitution. The Ukrainian laws do not allow foreign troops on the country’s territory, which means Ukraine will insist on Russian troops leaving, but has agreed not to mention them directly in the plan.
"No red line will be crossed, which is why there will be no capitulation," Zelenskiy said at a press conference.
Ukraine has previously rejected the Steinmeier Formula, which some even called the Putin Formula, because its short text doesn’t specifically mention the Russian troops in Donbas.
Russia has repeatedly denied its troops operated in Donbas, but Ukrainian military intelligence reported that at least 7,500 Russian troops are actually stationed in the regions. Also, two armies of the Donbas rebel force are directed by high-ranking Russian military officers throughout the chain of command.
Zelenskiy made the announcement at the surprise press conference on Tuesday after Russian media had reported that a Ukrainian team of negotiators had accepted the Steinmeier Formula at the peace talks in Minsk.
"I want to talk about the biggest horror story of recent weeks called the Steinmeier Formula,” Zelenskiy said. “It's one or two sentences, and that's all.”
Now, Ukraine will rely on its own legislation that stipulates that the local elections in Donbas must be held in accordance with the Ukrainian laws, and must also comply with the democracy standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCD.
“This means that there will be no elections under the muzzle of [Russian] machine guns," Zelenskiy said, adding that Ukraine will further strengthen that legislation before the end of the year.
Zelenskiy apparently has agreed to accept the formula in order to make a breakthrough in talks over the release hundreds of Ukrainian political prisoners kept in Russia and in the occupied territories.
The development comes weeks after Zelenskiy has managed to negotiate the exchange of 35 Ukrainian political prisoners for 35 Russian and pro-Moscow fighters kept in Ukraine.
The prisoner swap was conducted after Zelenskiy had agreed to a controversial move of returning Volodymyr Tsemakh, a pro-Russian rebel and a key witness in the Dutch investigation of the downing of Malaysian Boeing MH-17 by a Russian anti-aircraft missile in Donbas in July 2017. Russia was said to have insisted on the Tsemakh return. (tl/ez)