Western media seemed excited to inform their readership that the Minsk talks between Ukraine and the two Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, which broke away from Ukraine in early 2014, had “reached an important agreement”. German state TV even reported that “hope for Eastern Ukraine” had arrived.
And all that just because of one man – German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. For this purpose, he invented – attention! – the “Steinmeier Formula”. But his purported “new” idea, was already presented in 2016 when he was German Foreign Minister.
Since October 2, the “Steinmeier Formula” has been enthusiastically welcomed by all kinds of Western “experts”. But what is this magic formula about?
On Tuesday, the contact group on Ukraine agreed on a plan which envisages a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops and amnesty regarding the situation in the Donbass region, said Martin Sajdik, special envoy for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The “Steinmeier Formula” suggests that the Donbass region which is not controlled by Kiev, should receive temporary special status for the period of local elections, which should be held under the Ukrainian law and under OSCE monitoring.
If the OSCE recognizes the elections to be free and fair, the law on the special status of Donbass should enter into force and operate on an ongoing basis.
So far, so good. But seriously it is nothing new, except for the fact that Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky has generally agreed to this formula while former president Petro Poroshenko never wanted to.
So what will happen now? Most probably nothing – since both sides have been triggered because the formula offers enough space for very contradictory interpretations: while Zelensky expects the elections to take place after the self defense forces of the both People’s Republics lay down their arms and hand over control of the border with Russia to Ukrainian forces, the leaderships of the break-away Republics are not even contemplating such decisive measures in the slightest.
Why should they? It would in essence mean surrendering to Ukraine. After more than five years of war, after literally every family in the Donbass region having suffered directly from the hostilities and counting more than 13 000 victims, and after years of the most horrifying hate speech from Kiev against the inhabitants of Donbass – even a five-year-old would deem such a formula suicidal. Laying down arms and believing in the goodwill of the Kiev leadership, must be the least enticing option for Donbass inhabitants.
Moreover, even if Zelensky agreed, what would it really mean? Ukraine is a failed state, because already under president Poroshenko the Kiev government lost control over its own state bodies such as the intelligence and security services and the notorious so-called “volunteer units” such as “Azov”.
At the same time Ukraine is drowning in corruption and mismanagement. Who would trust such an entity? What weight does the word of a president leading a state in chaos hold?
No wonder that right after the “Steinmeier Formula” was agreed to by Zelensky, huge protests took place in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, calling the new president a “traitor”. In fact, Zelensky might have more to fear from radicals in his own ranks within the next weeks than from the leaderships and self-defense forces of the two Donbass Republics.
And what about the Ukrainians in general? A recent poll by the Ukrainian Rating Group noted that two-thirds of respondents were unable to rate the “Steinmeier Formula”, while 23 percent opposed the idea and only 18 percent supported it.
Steinmeier has, more importantly, ignored one of the most basic principles of collective human rights: the right to self-determination of people. In 2014, referendums took place in both Republics – just as in Crimea in March 2014 – with a very clear result. The majority of the people decided to break away from the Ukrainian central state. Neither the OSCE nor Western governments have recognized those referendums yet.
And nor has Steinmeier. And why should he? He is the president of a country where the government goes into panic mode when they hear the term “referendum”, and in which the president is not elected by the people but by a weird mix of deputies and celebrities.
This is a country where literally all big political projects of the past 20 years – the introduction of the Euro currency, NATO operations in foreign countries, the opening of the borders for the mass influx of migrants – took place against the will of the majority of the German people.
It is also a country where the government voluntarily gives away sovereignty rights to an anti-democratic super-state such as the European Union. Maybe this president is not the most qualified advisor for a struggling people who just want recognition for their will to sovereignty and independence.
Both those terms are sadly not part of the vocabulary of Franz-Walter Steinmeier.