Ukrainians march against president’s peace plan with Russia

Volodymyr Zelenskiy vows ‘no capitulation. No surrender of Ukraine’s national interest’

Demonstrators wave Ukraine national flags in central Kiev to protest against broader autonomy for separatist territories, part of a plan to end the  war with Russian-backed fighters in Donbas. Photograph: Getty

Demonstrators wave Ukraine national flags in central Kiev to protest against broader autonomy for separatist territories, part of a plan to end the war with Russian-backed fighters in Donbas. Photograph: Getty

 

Thousands of Ukrainians marched on Sunday to warn President Volodymyr Zelenskiy against making any dangerous concessions to Russia as he tries to revive peace talks and end the five-year conflict.

Ukrainian police said about 10,000 people rallied on Maidan square in central Kiev and smaller marches took place in other cities.

Many Ukrainians are concerned that Kiev has accepted a plan on how to sequence elections in parts of the eastern Donbas region now held by Russian-led separatists and grant them some form of special status within Ukraine.

Organisers of the rallies said Ukraine was “half a step away from capitulation in the war with Russia”, which funds, arms and ultimately controls separatists in Donbas, where fighting since spring 2014 has killed more than 13,000 people.

They said elections in separatist-held areas would “open the door to [their] autonomy, the legalisation of terrorists as politicians and ‘people’s militia’ and ultimately to the loss of Ukraine’s sovereignty”.

The organisers said they opposed special status for Donbas and rejected the sequencing plan that was accepted last week, which is named after the former German foreign minister who proposed it, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Mr Zelenskiy won a landslide election victory this year on a pledge to end the war. But he now faces some domestic criticism amid uncomfortable international attention on whether US president Donald Trump pressured him into opening an investigation into former US vice-president Joe Biden.

The former comedian said the Steinmeier formula is merely a technical document on how to enact the stalled 2015 Minsk peace agreement, and that signing off on it will kick-start peace talks involving Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.

He also insisted that the key questions on reintegrating the conflict zone and separatist fighters into Ukraine will be resolved during extensive, open debate on a law governing the region’s future status.

“Next, there will be a meeting . . .with the president of France, the chancellor of Germany and the president of the Russian Federation, where we will discuss ways to end the war in Donbas,” said Mr Zelenskiy in a video address to his nation last Thursday evening.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during Ukraine Belarus forum in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. Three House committees have released dozens of texts between U.S. diplomats in Ukraine discussing how to handle a response to President Donald TrumpÕs demands that the country launch an investigation into Joe BidenÕs family. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said of Donbas, 'peace must prevail there, a ceasefire must be completed and foreign military formations must be withdrawn'.

“My position on this issue is clear and it is in line with the position of all Ukrainians: we all understand that Donbas is Ukraine. Peace must prevail there, a ceasefire must be completed and foreign military formations must be withdrawn . . . So there is no capitulation. No surrender of Ukraine’s national interests.”

The law on Donbas will take permanent effect after local elections there under Ukrainian law that international monitors recognise as free and fair.

Those elections will only take place, said Mr Zelenskiy, once Ukraine has regained control of its border with Russia and Ukrainian media and political parties are operating in areas now held by the separatists – terms that are unacceptable to Moscow and its proxy militias.

As a prelude to the four-way peace talks, Kiev and the separatists agreed to withdraw forces from two sections of the front line, but Ukrainian far-right leader Andriy Biletskiy denounced that move on Sunday and said he and other war veterans would step in to defend those areas.