Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Is there a "Zelensky format" to resolve the conflict in the Donbas?

After the exchange of prisoners, the discussion in political circles about what will happen next in relations between Ukraine and Russia in the Donbas did not cease. President Zelensky said that the exchange is only the beginning and that Kyiv will continue to seek the return of Ukrainians to their Homeland and achieve peace. Analysts did not rule out that it could be the implementation of closed agreements, in particular, the so-called "Steinmeier formula", which Russia insists on and which was categorically rejected by the previous government. Former Foreign Minister and now-President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier in 2015 made public the formula for the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas, which provides for the simultaneous implementation of the political and security parts of the Minsk agreements. Supporters of this plan are the leaders of the self-proclaimed "DPR" and "LPR" and Russia. Volodymyr Zelensky's predecessors considered such a plan unacceptable and insisted that firstly security part of the Minsk agreements should be implemented, and then political, that is, the withdrawal of troops and control over the border should precede the elections and discussion of the status of Donbas. In recent weeks, there have been growing signs that this plan will be main at the meeting of the Normandy Four leaders, which have to take place by the end of September.

It is also worth paying attention to the chronology of recent events, which confirm that negotiations were moving at a fast pace. On August 19 in France, Volodymyr Putin and Emmanuel Macron expressed their hopes that under the new Ukrainian government there will be chances for peace in the Donbas and that at the "Normandy Four" summit they should try to end the war. On September 2, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadym Pristayko took part in the meeting of foreign ministers of the Normandy format. After the talks, he said that they talked about the implementation of "specific agreements" that open the way to the summit. He gave no details. On September 7, after the exchange of prisoners, Volodymyr Zelensky said: "I think we will return not only people, but also our territories." On the same day, the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia communicate by phone and focus on the positive result of "the implementation of agreements in the framework of the first stage on the way to the normalization of the dialogue." The President's office does not give specifics about the next steps, saying only that they are being discussed. On September 8, the Kremlin released information about the conversation between Vladimir Putin and French President, Emmanuel Macron. The Russian President attributes the success of the "Normandy Four" summit, which is to be held before the end of September, with the consolidation of the "Steinmeier formula" in written form. In recent years, opponents of this formula in Ukraine have called it a "complete surrender" to Russia.[1]

On September 23, "Zelensky's formula" was presented. The so-called plan of President Volodymyr Zelensky to resolve the situation in the Donbas, first of all, provides for an understanding with the Ukrainians who remained to live in the temporarily occupied territories. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadym Pristayko in an interview with "Hromadske" said that now this plan is not documented. However, it is necessary to "start fixing it on paper, because the people's expectations must be formulated clearly." In addition, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, this plan should have been formulated 5 years ago - at the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Therefore, Zelensky's current plan is to get along with the part of Ukrainians that will remain on the other side – in the occupied Donbas.

All steps-the exchange of prisoners, the breeding of troops to reduce the danger to residents, the restoration of the bridge in the Stanytsia Luhanska, which is only a small piece on the entire 400+ kilometers of the front line, as well as the removal of certain restrictions on the transportation of essential goods, products - all this information work. This is all we are trying to show Ukrainians on the other side of the line in our temporarily uncontrolled territories that we are waiting for them at home, Pristayko  stressed. According to him, the authorities want to explain to the residents of the occupied districts what is happening in Ukraine – where we are going and what we plan to do.  "And if you want to be with us, to build our common one Ukraine – it is not ideal, but let’s build together. That's what President Zelensky wants to propose. He understands that this is opposed by people with weapons, understands that Russian military is there. That is why all other plans are used, in particular the negotiations, the summit. It's a complete set. Plus the growth of the economy, strengthening its own defense capabilities-this is all part of the Zelensky's plan", the Minister summed up.[2]

Conditional "Zelensky’s formula" on Donbass - is more tactical steps. Ukraine needs to rigidly set its conditions. Co-chairman of "Right Case", Dmitry Snegirev told "24 channel" about this. As the expert notes, there are several caveats about the steps proposed by President Zelensky. Firstly, according to Snegirev, Russia will exchange prisoners "all for all" only when Ukraine agrees to the "Steinmeier formula", which provides for a special status of the "DPR and LPR". "Steinmeier formula" can not be fixed on paper, because then the elections in the "DPR and LPR" will not be held according to Ukrainian laws. But with presence of regular armed forces of the Russian Federation and local terrorists, Dmitry Snegirev notes. Secondly, simplification of the payment of pensions to the residents of the "DPR and LPR". The government offers not every two months, but once a year to come to the relevant authorities to confirm the identity. But, according to the expert, this will lead to problems of the Pension Fund. It would be difficult to calculate the exact number of pensioners in the "DPR and LPR". In fact, we will pay dead souls, and this is an additional burden on the state budget. And it could lead to "retirement tourism." The money of pensioners can get strangers or those who finances illegal armed forces in the "DPR and LPR".

According to the expert, Ukraine should clearly outline the strategy of de-occupation. The return of "DPR and LPR" on the terms of Russia will not happen. We have to demand full integration of "DPR and LPR" under control of Ukraine – into our legal field, Dmitry Snegirev emphasizes.[3]

Accordingly, the newly elected government is trying to quickly find ways to resolve the conflict in the Donbas, but at the same time makes a huge mistake hoping for the success of its own plan. Because it is not easy to deal with Russia and this should be taken into account primarily in possible agreements.