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Surprise signing of “Steinmeier formula”: Causes and consequences

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The news about the so-called “Steinmeier formula” having been signed by all members of the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) came as a big surprise. All the more so, since the September 4 agreement by the political advisers to the presidents of the Normandy Four countries to endorse the proposal made a big buzz in the world media, and set off a storm of angry outrage in the Ukrainian press with a number of political and public figures, as well as representatives of nationalists all but calling President Vladimir Zelensky a traitor. Former President Leonid Kuchma, who represents Ukraine at the Contact Group, refused to sign the formula during a group meeting on September 18. In a bid to rectify the situation, they started talking about the existence of some alleged “Zelensky formula, whose contents was never made public.

Until the “formula” was actually signed at the October 1 meeting by the Contact Group, there had been neither announcements of, nor preparations for this. What happened between September 18 and October 1, which eventually prompted President Zelensky’s decision to sign the “formula”?

The UN General Assembly, during which Vladimir President Zelensky finally met with President Donald Trump, advised him to establish closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and settle differences together. Shortly afterwards, the White House published, without securing any prior agreement from Kiev, the transcript of a telephone linkup between Trump and Zelensky. This was followed by the resignation of the US Special Envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker.

These two important developments are a clear sign of Washington’s utilitarian attitude towards Kiev. However, even if they did influence Kiev’s further actions, they only served as a catalyst. Finding himself on the brink of a diplomatic scandal with France and Germany, Zelensky needed to make good his campaign promises and move fast to maintain his lead over his political opponents (presidential elections – parliamentary elections – government formation – exchange of prisoners – signing of the “Steinmeier formula”- a meeting of the “Normandy Four”).

The signing of the “Steinmeier formula” at the Contact Group opened the way for a summit of the heads of state of the “Normandy Four” is open, and this is the most significant and, maybe, the only result of the October 1 signing. 

The signing of the “Steinmeier formula” is seen by Ukrainian media as an act of treason. Why? Because they are afraid. Of what?

“Do you know what the sense of this document (Minsk agreements – D.B.) was? That it will not be implemented. The sides had different interpretations of the text of the agreements, which gave Ukraine time to contain Russia, which faced additional Western sanctions. (…) Decentralization will be interpreted as federalization, local elections will be held, which the OSCE, being financially dependent on Russia, will formally recognize. At the same time, the constitution will be changed and the law on special status implemented, this time in full. Only after this (according to the Minsk agreements), will Ukraine restore control over its border. After all, it is clear that Moscow will only implement the first part of the agreement. (…) The authorities there will be formed by the Kremlin. Next up is a nationwide election in Ukraine. And the key to parliament is in the hands of the Russian authorities,” the Ukrainian website lb.ua news writes. 

In this logic, even the OSCE plays on Russia’s side. The main thing for Kiev, however, is that the documents will never be implemented.

Moreover, according to Russian experts, Kiev has ample opportunities to sabotage the Minsk agreements even after they have been signed. 

Andrei Kortunov gives his own picture of how the situation may develop further:

1. The Ukrainian law on the special status of Donbass will soon expire. A new law will be adopted, and what it will look like we do not know.

2. Kiev’s formal consent to the “Steinmeier formula” is not entirely obvious.   It says that it endorsed only the general principle of the formula. Moreover, given the strong efforts being made to undermine the Ukrainian position, just how the preparations for the summit will go depends on the political will of the Ukrainian leadership.

3. Disagreements remain, in particular, concerning the special status of Donbass.

That being said, the process has still moved forward. I do hope that all participants in this process will show maximum flexibility, so that it keeps moving on, which would probably provide some tangible results in the next three to four months.”

In a sober assessment of what happened, the OSCE Special Representative Martin Sajdik, noted that the signatures are not under one common document, but under separate letters. This means that theoretically, each side could stick to its own interpretation of the formula. As for the local elections in Donbass, Sajdik continues, there are many questions that need to be answered before the elections:

“There is still much work to be done on this issue within the contact group and in the ‘Normandy format,’” he told reporters. “A lot of work remains in the political subgroup of the contact group. It is in it that it will be necessary to talk about the holding of elections.”

He added that many questions remain open, including the security of the upcoming procedure; and that the “Normandy format” summit could be the first step in this direction.

As for the “Steinmeier formula,” it is only a mechanism which, as part of diplomatic cooperation in the “Normandy Four” format, symbolizes the participants’ readiness to resolve the conflict in southeastern Ukraine and determine the future status of the republics of Donbass. It does not guarantee the implementation of the Minsk accords though. 

Moreover, a statement issued by representatives of the unrecognized republics demands a step-by-step roadmap of what needs to be done now.  They believe that the signing of the “Steinmeier formula” should be viewed as recognition of the right of the people of Donbass to determine their own fate. This is the bottom line of the joint statement made by the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik.

“Yesterday, thanks to Russia, Germany and France, Ukraine finally signed the Steinmeier formula, which guarantees Donbass a special status. Thus, it   recognizes the special right of the people of Donbass to independently determine their fate. It is up to us to decide what language to speak, what kind of an economy we need, how our judicial system will be formed, how our people’s militia will protect our citizens, and how we will integrate with Russia. This is our business and our goal, and we will continue negotiations in Minsk in order to ultimately achieve self-rule and self-determination,” the statement says.”

The signing of the “formula” provoked fierce resistance on the part of the advocates of the so-called “Poroshenko’s course,” as the “party of war” considers the signing as a sign of surrender. Meanwhile, the European Union and its leading members welcomed Zelensky’s move. Paradoxically, Ukrainian parties, which support European integration, such as European Solidarity, Golos and Batkivshchyna, took an anti-European position. The nationalists brought about 2,000 people to the streets of Kiev and in many other cities (200-300 people in each city), who chanted “No surrender!” and called for the impeachment of President Zelensky.

In an October 2 appeal to Ukrainians protesting against the signing of the “Steinmeier formula,” President Zelensky said: “Today there is only one platform where these issues can be discussed at the highest level. This is a meeting in the Normandy format … This formula says only one thing – namely, exactly when the so-called law on the special status of the Donbass should work. It will after local elections have been held there according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the laws of Ukraine, and after the publication of the OSCE report that the elections were held in line with internationally recognized democratic standards.”

Political advisers to the leaders of the “Normandy Four” can confirm the signing of the “Steinmeier formula.” At their meeting, the heads of state of the “Normandy Four” can agree the “formula” as the initial mechanism for the implementation of the Minsk accords.

However, it is Kiev, who holds the key to the implementation of the “formula,” or rather, the Minsk agreements as a whole. Political decisions taken on the international level need to be followed up by the Ukrainian parliament, which should pass laws on the special status of the unrecognized republics, and an election law, after which local elections should be held.  President Zelensky has a majority in the Verkhovna Rada and can amend the constitution in such a way that it outlines the special status of the unrecognized republics of Donbass.

Depending on the intentions of the Ukrainian leadership, the situation may develop according to several scenarios:

1) Zelensky uses his majority in parliament to push through laws, necessary for the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

2) Zelensky fails to muster parliamentary support, since his majority is not solid enough. 

3) Zelensky receives parliamentary support, the laws are passed, but the Minsk agreements are interpreted in such a way that only Kiev can arrange. For example, “special status” is interpreted as part of a decentralization policy. The implementation of the Minsk accords is put on hold again. 

In the first scenario, the adopted laws will need to be implemented, which could prove extremely difficult.

In the second scenario, President Zelensky could say: “The elected representatives of the Ukrainian people failed to support the implementation of the Minsk agreements. I did all I could, but ‘everything is possible.’ Therefore, it is necessary to amend the Minsk agreements and look for a new formula of their implementation. And this is the third scenario.

Kiev’s intention to implement exactly the third scenario became very much evident during Vladimir Zelensky’s press conference, which he convened to clarify his position regarding the signing of the “Steinmeier formula.” Following are the main points of Zelensky’s address:

The “Steinmeier formula” is agreed upon, but not signed.

“Red lines” regarding Donbass Ukraine will not be crossed.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces will not surrender.

Nobody can influence the president’s decisions.

There will be no local elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the presence of any armed forces on their territories.

Elections are possible only after the border between the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and the Russian Federation goes under Ukraine’s control.

The exact date of the meeting in the “Normandy format” will be agreed shortly.

The signing of the “Steinmeier formula” has created more questions, which could be answered during the summit of the heads of state of the “Normandy Four.”  

From our partner International Affairs

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Eastern Europe

A New Phase of Escalation in the Russia-Ukraine War

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Photo: Grigoriy Sisoev, RIA Novosti

The month of September marked a new phase of escalation in what was being branded as a “grinding war of attrition”. Invading Russian forces, after having lost the momentum thanks to unwavering Ukrainian resistance supported by crucial military assistance from the West, kept narrowing down their military objectives, ultimately failing to achieve even those narrowed down aims virtually leading to a stalemate.

The tables started turning during the early part of September. Armed with cutting-edge Western weaponry and vital intelligence support, Ukrainian Army launched a two-pronged counteroffensive in the South towards Kherson and in the Northeast. While Ukrainians made some gains in the South, startling was their lightning recapture of the territory in the northeast, and even more startling was the rout of the Russian forces, which was such complete and absolute that Ukrainians recaptured more territory in less than a week compared to what Russians were able to take during past many months. The demoralized Russian troops hardly put up a fight and abandoned loads of arms and ammunition during the hastily carried out disordered retreat. Unsurprisingly, the Russian defense ministry sought to obfuscate the rout by cataloging it as a withdrawal aimed at regrouping. 

While the Ukrainian gains demonstrated the high morale and motivation of the Ukrainian troops, traits indispensable for winning wars — the Russian rout once again exposed the material and motivational shortcomings of what was for long regarded as one of the most powerful and capable military machines in the world: the Russian military. Though the Western military and intelligence support played a decisive role in the earlier stalemate and recently in the speedy Ukrainian gains, the heroism and unflinching commitment displayed by the Ukrainian nation and troops against all the odds marks the start of a new chapter in the national history of Ukraine — through which it is emerging as unified than ever.

Since it invaded Ukraine in February this year, Kremlin has been very careful so as not to transmit any signal implying weakness of its military or Putin’s control over the state of affairs within Russia. However, on September 21st, Moscow decreed the first mobilization, though partial, since World War II, which marked an implicit admission that Putin is failing to achieve his military objectives with the available military force. Though there has not been an official word on the exact numbers, media reports claimed that the numbers being mobilized are around 300,000 while other estimated, mostly based on the scale of the draft campaign in Russia reaching up to smaller towns and villages, placed the figure as high as 01 million. Irrespective of the exact numbers, the military draft marks a major escalation in the war and dims the hopes of a rapid Ukrainian triumph over the invading Russian force, which the Western observers started pinning after the lightning Ukrainian gains during the first half of the month.

Putin unquestionably has played a massive gamble. Western media has been reporting numerous incidents of people trying to leave Russia to circumvent being drafted; however, these reports can be highly exaggerated. Nevertheless, it must also be acknowledged that irrespective of how indoctrinated a country’s population is, being recruited forcibly for a seemingly wasted cause is unlikely to receive much traction in Russia. Even though at this time Putin does seem to be too worried about the decline in domestic approval, in the medium to long-term, the draft venture can turn the odds drastically against the Russian President, especially, if the death toll mounts and the campaigns designed to gaslight the masses do not have the desired impact.

As if the draft was not enough, on September 30th, Putin announced annexing four Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia. The move marks the biggest annexation of territory since World War II and makes up an estimated 15 to 20 of Ukraine’s landmass. After declaring the inhabitants of the annexed region as “our citizens forever”, the Russian President pledged to defend the Russian land, which as per Russian law also includes the annexed region, employing all available strength and means — phraseology that was translated as another nuclear threat in a long series hurled by the Russian President since the start of the war.

As the lines are being written, the Ukrainian Army has captured the city of Lyman on Donetsk while the Russian defense ministry has acknowledged the takeover again calling it a withdrawal by Russian forces. The takeover of Lyman, however, demonstrates that does not matter how many lines one draws on the map, the actual outcome of the war would be determined on the battlefield, wherein Ukrainians, at least for the time being, have the momentum on their side.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia is inundated with NATO

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Image source: mk.gov.lv

Ukraine has become the excellent excuse for NATO expanding of Europe. The Alliance justified numerous military exercises and weapons supplies to the European countries by the need to response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu said that NATO has to reinforce its presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.

The most active recipients of such support are the Baltic States. It is interesting to note, that they are so involved in the process of foreign weapons and troops deployment on their territories, that do not realize the danger of such political decisions. The U.S. and NATO do not only deploy military contingents and weapons but even start to decide and speak for them in the international arena.

Thus, The United States embassy in Latvia posted footage September 28 of the famous HIMARS rocket system being fired during exercises in Latvia, saying that two M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems were deployed in Latvia last week, one in Riga and one in Liepaja to display their mobility and flexibility. A U.S. HIMARS artillery system destroyed training targets in the Baltic Sea during exercise Namejs 2022, held at the Škede range in Latvia.

“It’s another opportunity to say once again how important Article 5 of NATO is, where an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members of NATO,” said John Carwile, United States Ambassador to Latvia.

Though the demonstration was intended to show NATO’s readiness to defend the Baltics, in reality it showed the Alliance’s intention to use such weapons against Russia. The matter is, Moscow’s response will leave Latvia no chance to survive. It would be totally ruined.

NATO decides for Latvia. The country is unhappy to become the main possible target because it was turned into host nation for NATO troops and weapons which openly threaten Russia. In other words the country was fully annexed by NATO troops, weapons, ideas and political decisions. Latvia’s security today does not depend on Riga any more, its territory is inundated with NATO weapons which are more dangerous for the country itself than for much more powerful Russia.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine war-induced crisis affecting women and girls disproportionately

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A mother and daughter flee violence in Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. © UNDP/Oleksandr Ratush

A new UN report reveals how the Ukraine war and its global impacts on food, energy, and finance are affecting women and girls disproportionately, both inside the country and around the world.

The policy paper developed by gender agency UN Women and the Secretary-General’s Global Crisis Response Group, describes how the war has widened gender gaps in hunger, education and poverty, and has also increased gender-based violence.

Dire situation

For example, school-aged girls are now at a higher risk of being forced out of school and into marriage, as a way for desperate families simply to make ends meet.

Women have also reduced their own food intake, so that other family members can have more, amid food price hikes and shortages.

Meanwhile, energy prices have left families with no choice but to continue using low-tech fossil fuels, exposing women and girls to household air pollution, which kills 3.2 million people each year.

UN Women also estimates that around 265,000 Ukrainian women were pregnant when the war broke out and have had to endure physical and health challenges in the past months.

Rural food insecurity

The document notes that women-headed households in Ukraine were already more food insecure before the war, with 37.5 per cent of them experiencing moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, compared to 20.5 per cent of male-headed households.

Currently, rural women in Russian occupied territories are not able to do agricultural work due to high insecurity and lack of resources. However, they are having to accommodate internally displaced people, multiplying their unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities.

Sexual violence on the rise

The report warns of an “alarming” increase in gender-based violence, transactional sex for food and survival, sexual exploitation, and trafficking, not only in Ukraine but worldwide, amid worsening living conditions.

“Systemic, gendered crises require systemic, gendered solutions.  That means ensuring that women and girls, including from marginalized groups, are part of all the decision-making processes.

“That is simply the only way to be certain that their rights and needs are fully taken into account as we respond to the clear facts before us”, said Sima Bahous, UN Women Executive Director.

Recommendations

The analysis highlights that as women continue to bear different and additional burdens of war, they must be represented in all decision-making platforms on de-escalation, conflict prevention, mitigation and other processes in pursuit of peace and security for the people of Ukraine and beyond.

The report calls on the international community to promote the right to food by targeting the specific nutrition needs of women and girls and accelerating the transformation towards more equitable gender-responsive and sustainable food systems.

UN Women and the UN’s Global Crisis Response Group also recommend world leaders to ensure equal access to affordable and sustainable energy, as well as boost reporting on gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data.

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