A meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group on the Minsk agreement was held on September 17th. It completely fell through, mostly since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government sabotaged the negotiations like its predecessors.
The meeting was important since it would decide whether Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet. The condition for such a meeting was set by Moscow: sign the “Steinmeier formula” – an algorithm of actions according to which the Donbass is given special status immediately after the local elections.
A photograph of an alleged document containing the Steinmeier formula was released online by Kommersant.
According to the text, the law on special status “enters into force at 20:00 local time on the day of voting in special elections in certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which are appointed and held in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine and the special law of Ukraine governing special local elections in the above areas. “
Even in the wording, which did not become a document, it is noted that the law on special status will be valid on a temporary basis until the day the OSCE observer mission publishes its final election report. When and if the OSCE recognizes the elections as meeting all standards, the law will begin to operate on an ongoing basis.
However, Kiev had made it clear that it did not agree to the formula. And before the election, Ukraine first demands the control of the border between Russia and People’s Republics. This is known as the “Poroshenko formula” – fundamentally unacceptable for Russia, since it means the voluntary surrender of the “republics.”
As a result, today the signing of the “Steinmeier formula” naturally failed. Consequently, the likelihood of a meeting of the “Norman Four” in the foreseeable future has sharply decreased.
Russian Political Scientist Aleksey Chesnakov, who is an aide to Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation Vladislav Surkov ,announced that the Steinmeier formula was rejected by Ukraine.
This went completely opposite to what the Ukrainian side agreed to on September 2nd, when representatives of Kiev and Moscow met in Berlin. According to him, the Russian side was questioning whether Ukraine even knew how to negotiate.
Chesnakov hints that the decision of Ukraine was agreed in advance with the American side and concerned the nuances of the peacekeeping mission.
“Ukraine can return to the issue of peacekeepers again and again as much as desired. However, it is counterproductive: a) it contradicts the Minsk agreements; b) there is no political decision of the Security Council or the relevant UN resources for this,” Chesnakov said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadim Priestayko initially stated that Ukraine agreed on the Steinmeier formula as early as September 2nd, with Leonid Kuchma, a Ukrainian negotiator who denied such consent at a press conference in Minsk.
The Russian Envoy to the Ukraine contact group, Boris Gryzlov, said that Kiev had disrupted the agreement:
“Kiev at the meeting of the contact group refused to sign the Steinmeier formula” and agree on the procedure for securing the special status of Donbass,” he said.
According to Gryzlov, the decision jeopardized the Normandy Four summit, disrupting the implementation of previous agreements, and “Kiev is losing the opportunity to improve the situation in the Donbass that was created after the election of Zelensky and the new Rada.”
On the Ukrainian side, an official statement appeared, following the complete failure of the negotiations.
It generally confirmed what was said by Moscow. Having even made an encouraging remark: “the Ukrainian side has no fundamental objections to the essence of the so-called Steinmeier formula on local elections.”
But Kiev gave six conditions in order to agree to it:
- Complete ceasefire in the Donbass;
- Ensuring effective monitoring of the OSCE SMM throughout Ukraine – that is in Eastern Ukraine, in the DPR and LPR;
- Withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine of armed groups of foreign troops and military equipment;
- Withdrawal of forces and assets along the entire line of contact;
- Ensuring the work of the Central Election Commission of Ukraine, Ukrainian political parties, the media and foreign observers;
- The establishment of control over a section of the Ukrainian-Russian border beyond the control of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian side also confirmed its readiness for the separation of forces and assets in the area of Zolotoy and Petrovsky. Kiev accused Russia of blocking the determination of a possible date of separation, shifting the blame on Moscow.
This is an important statement, which hints that the withdrawal of troops is likely to fail too.
Ukraine returned to the rhetoric of Petro Poroshenko setting the Russian Federation and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics deliberately unacceptable conditions – “surrender the territory, and only then there will be elections.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadim Priestayko furthermore said that Ukraine has the option of cancelling its responsibilities under the Minsk agreement. He said that if they do not work, Kiev will insist on the introduction of peacekeepers.
That is unlikely to happen, since the notion of UN peacekeepers in the Donbass is blocked by Russian at the UN, but it also indicates that Ukraine will block Minsk-2.
Under these conditions, further escalation of violence in the Donbass after the failure of the negotiations is not excluded. And these threats have already been announced by the OSCE.
It remains to be seen how France and Germany will react to Zelensky’s turn in the direction of actually refusing to fulfill the political part of the Minsk agreements.
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