In brief

Doubts, protests arise over Ukraine-Russia deal to hold elections in Donbass, implement autonomy

Ukrainian president blamed for “capitulating” to Moscow

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy explains deal to the media.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy explains deal to the media. Author: Official Website of the President of Ukraine
Ukraine and the OSCE announced a new agreement with Russia and pro-independence representatives of the Donbass region (Donetsk and Luhansk) to hold local elections in the two eastern Ukrainian territories, which since 2014 have been under the control of two self-proclaimed republics supported by Moscow. The announcement triggered protests in Kiev against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. However, it opens the door to re-open talks on the Donbass conflict that, since 2014, has killed 13,000 people.

The deal, reached in Minsk (Belarus) 1 October, is based on the so-called Steinmeier Formula, drawn up in 2016 by then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It is a simplified variant of the Minsk Agreements that Ukraine and Russia signed in 2014 and 2015, which were never implemented.

The Steinmeier Formula foresees the holding of OSCE-monitored local elections in the Donbass under Ukrainian legislation, the implementation of a special autonomy status for Donetsk and Luhansk, and the regaining by Ukraine of control of its eastern border —which marks the border of the Donbass with Russia.

Interpretations of what this entails —and particularly, what the sequence of implementation will be— are mixed. Zelenski says that elections and autonomy will only come after Russian troops have left the Donbass and Ukraine has regained control of its eastern border. The Ukrainian president believes the deal to be a step towards peace and restoration of Ukrainian control over the Donbass.

But opposition leader and former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko blames Zelenskyy for having agreed to local elections and autonomy —which must provisionally come into force on the very voting day— without Ukraine having received any real guarantee of regaining control over the eastern territories, the agreement thus opening the door to allowing Russia to maintain a great deal of influence in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Hundreds of demonstrators, defined by the BBC as Ukrainian “nationalists”, protested the agreement the same night, deeming it a “capitulation”, a term also used by Poroshenko.

Russia, for its part, denies having regular troops in the territory. Evidence exist of the presence of thousands of Russian volunteers and of Russian military support to militias affiliated to the two self-styled republics —the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Luhansk.

Following Zelenskyy’s announcement, the leaders of the two Donbass republics warned that Ukraine will never regain control of the border, and said that the future of Donetsk and Luhansk will be decided only by their inhabitants.

The deal, on the other hand, foresees the withdrawal of troops, both Ukrainian and pro-independence, from two town located on the front.

The next steps should be discussed at a meeting to be held in the coming weeks between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.