Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decision to start negotiations for peace with the Russian Federation on the basis of what is known as the Steinmeier Formula is fraught with danger.
Named after Germany’s former foreign minister, now its president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who devised it in 2016, this formula is a slimmer, simplified version of the Minsk agreements, which were signed by Ukraine and Russia, under the watchful eye of France, Germany and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in September 2014 and February 2015. 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 balloting to be free and fair, then a special self-governing status for the territories will be initiated and Ukraine will be returned control of its easternmost border.
First, does the OSCE have the capacity to monitor free elections? What guarantee is there that elections will actually be held under Ukrainian law? Can one realistically expect terrorists to suddenly follow democratic norms? Zelenskyy pledges there won’t be any elections “under the barrel of a gun.” But we remain skeptical. Don’t forget we’re dealing with centuries-old Russian imperialism, which, throughout history has demonstrated a contempt for any treaty or agreement. Zelenskyy says a new law on special self-governing status for the Donbas would be addressed by parliament soon and that the language included in it would not cross any “red lines,” adding that “there will be no capitulation.”
Excuse us if we are a bit wary of such pronouncements. Special status for the Russian-held area of Donbas will create a fifth column within the Ukrainian state. A fifth column that will undermine efforts for economic and democratic reform and will block all the dreams of the majority of the Ukrainian population for European integration. It will be a fifth column determined to thrust Ukraine back into the “Russian World” and do it’s best to make Ukraine a failed state. When a cancer enters your body, you do not give it “special status”. You remove it.
Furthermore, special status for Donbas may lead to similar demands from other parts of the country. Certainly, western Ukraine, which did not fall under Russian rule until the Second World War, has a legitimate claim for special status considering its historical development. Would that further destabilize Ukraine as a unitary state? Of course, it would, but the original damage would have been created by giving the Donbas special status.
What’s more, special status will legitimize Russian aggression in the Donbas. It will demonstrate that rogue states can gain what they want through brute force, thus effectively dismantling the post-war order in Europe.
And what about Crimea? According to Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, Crimea is simply not up for discussion. What that means is that a rogue state has successfully managed to change the boundaries of post-war Europe by force and has blatantly violated the Budapest Agreement by which Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for, among other things, the promise of other signatories, including the Russian Federation, to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And what are the consequences of this? It is a signal that nuclear non-proliferation is a joke and gives the green light for North Korea to expand its nuclear arsenal and for Iran to develop its own.
And then there is the question of amnesty for the separatist terrorists in Donbas, a legal matter which had been included in the original Minsk agreements. Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vadym Prystaiko, claims the Steinmeier formula for the settlement of the Donbas conflict does not provide for an amnesty for the militants of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”. We’ll just have to wait and see.
And then, once the Donbas is returned to Ukraine, who is going to pay the cost of reconstruction? Certainly not the Russian Federation. The cost of reconstruction will be immense and far beyond the financial capabilities of Ukraine. But that is ultimately what the country will be stuck with – diverting financial resources from other parts of the country to subsidize a Russian-backed fifth column.
While Ukraine needs peace, it cannot achieve that peace by capitulating to the Russian Federation. And that’s what this peace formula is – capitulation. No honorable peace can be achieved as long as Putin and his clique run the Russian Federation. Better to accept a “Korean solution” – an armistice built around a demilitarized zone and a frozen conflict.
As long as Vladimir Putin remains in power, any “peace agreement” with Moscow can only be a farce. It can only be described as capitulation.