Controversy Arises as Zelensky Signs Steinmeier Formula

Zelensky signed the Steinmeier Formula on October 1. (Wikimedia Commons)

Zelensky signed the Steinmeier Formula on October 1. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed on October 1 the much-anticipated yet controversial Steinmeier Formula, an international agreement that would allow local elections to be held in the separatist-controlled Ukrainian territory of Donbas. 

The region has been at war since 2014 when Russia-backed separatists seized control over parts of the region. The Steinmeier Formula, in an effort to terminate this conflict, calls for the removal of Ukrainian and Russian forces from the region before an election can be held.

In response to this, hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists gathered in Kiev’s Independence Square to protest just hours after Zelensky announced the decision. The demonstrators waved Ukrainian flags and carried signs that read “no capitulation.” 

The nationalistic protestors’ main grievance lies in their fear that separatists will remain in Donbas even after the elections, allowing Russia to strengthen its presence in the region. If the elections are conducted fairly and freely, according to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election monitors, the disputed territories will be granted a self-governing status and Ukraine will regain control of the easternmost territories.

Zelensky defended his decision to accept the formula, maintaining that “there won't be any elections under the barrel of a gun.” In other words, Ukraine will not allow elections until fighting ceases entirely and Ukraine has full sovereignty over the separatist-held borders.

Russia and the majority of the international community, especially Germany (whose president the plan is named for) support this approach to end the war in Donbas. However, critics contend that Ukraine is surrendering the territory to Russia by pulling out its troops and allowing elections, even if they are under the supervision of the OSCE.

One vocal critic of the Steinmeier Formula is Zelensky’s predecessor, former-President Petro Poroshenko, who argued that it is a concession and a surrender to Russian-backed forces.

Nevertheless, while Ukrainian nationalists and opponents of the Ukrainian president see him as capitulating to Russia, Zelensky and his administration are hopeful that this agreement will open peace talks with Moscow and end the half-decade long conflict in Donbas.