Critics of Ukraine’s push for peace fear ‘capitulation’ to Russia

Novice leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned of Kremlin ‘traps’ in plan for war-torn east

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been warned against "capitulation" to the Kremlin, after agreeing to a plan that he hopes will help end his country's five-year conflict with Russia.

Negotiators from Kiev, Moscow and Russian-led militia that control parts of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday signed up to a plan on how to sequence elections in the war-torn Donbas region and grant it special status within Ukraine.

Mr Zelenskiy insists the elections can only take place under Ukrainian law, in peaceful conditions, and when all troops have been withdrawn from contested areas of Donbas, but critics fear the plan contains “traps” laid by the Kremlin.

They warn that Moscow wants elections to take place before it lets Kiev retake control of the border between militant-controlled regions and Russia, and to use the future special status of Donbas to stymie Ukraine’s integration with the West.


Petro Poroshenko, who led Ukraine from 2014 until his defeat by Mr Zelenskiy earlier this year, said the border with Russia must be sealed and United Nations peacekeepers deployed to Donbas before elections are held.

‘Euro-Atlantic aspirations’

“Without this process, it is a capitulation to Russia,” he said, while accusing Moscow of plotting to turn the region into a “frozen conflict” zone run by Kremlin puppets, which would “block the Euro-integration and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Ukrainian state”.

Mr Zelenskiy met senior deputies on Wednesday to discuss concerns over the plan, which was proposed in 2016 by Germany’s then foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as a way to implement the stalled 2015 Minsk peace agreement.

"Undoubtedly, it was an important conversation but not enough to remove all questions," said Iryna Gerashchenko of Mr Poroshenko's European Solidarity party.

“My impressions and feelings are that Zelenskiy is sincerely striving for peace. But just as sincerely and a little naively he believes that he will manage to outsmart [Russian president Vladimir] Putin. And we see traps for Ukraine in these Kremlin formulas.”

Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, meanwhile, described the so-called Steinmeier formula as "unacceptable" and "a direct threat to our country's national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty".

Fomenting a war

A few hundred protesters rallied in central Kiev on Tuesday night to denounce the plan, including members of far-right groups, and a smaller crowd gathered outside parliament on Wednesday.

German and EU officials welcomed Kiev’s agreement as a step towards peace in Ukraine, where Russia reacted to the ousting of pro-Kremlin leaders in a 2014 revolution by seizing Crimea and fomenting a war in the east that has killed 13,000 people and displaced 1.6 million.

Accord on the Steinmeier formula is expected to pave the way for a peace summit in the coming months between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.

Kiev says a final deal for Donbas will not include a blanket amnesty for militants or special status for the region being written into Ukraine’s constitution – elements that the separatists and their Russian masters will surely oppose.

“No red lines will be crossed in the new [Donbas status] law,” Mr Zelenskiy insisted on Tuesday night. “That’s why there will be no capitulation.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe