The “Steinmeier Formula”: Zelenskyy’s huge mistake

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) greets German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a meeting in the Kremlin, Moscow on October 25, 2017     

Op-ed, Ukraine

Article by: Roman Bezsmertny
The Kremlin has launched a torpedo attack called the “Steinmeier Formula”, which will eventually lead to the defeat of Zelenskyy’s strategy

What has happened these past few days can be called a huge mistake that borders on crime. A nonchalant attitude to such things will cause more bloodshed and deaths, while the war with Russia may turn into civil unrest and provoke a serious political crisis in Ukraine.

What the Kremlin proposed a month ago is just a re-modelled version of the “Steinmeier Formula”. The letter, in which these points were presented by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany and Laurent Fabius, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, was a three-page document – which was never signed until October 1, 2019 – consisting of several blocks of proposals, and only part of this document related to the actual election period and implementation of the law on local self-government in the Donbas. In fact, these points constitute only 10% of the entire text.

Since the fall of 2015, no one has talked about this… After the foreign ministers had discussed this issue in November 2015, they came to the conclusion that it was much too early to speak about elections in the Donbas without resolving the issue of security. The next point was the implementation of POW exchanges. The next question related to demilitarization and demobilization, and how to deal with the so-called illegal military formations in the occupied territories. Next came the implementation of social and humanitarian plans, and only then, after all had been said and done, could Ukraine tackle the issue of political stabilization and local elections.

Today, the fact that the issue of local elections has been taken out of context indicates that Russia is obviously not interested in withdrawing its armed forces from the occupied territories. They are only interested in having someone in Ukraine sign his name under the word “elections”, and then everything will proceed as planned by the Kremlin. It was not by accident that Lavrov announced that the Kremlin was interested in implementing a Transnistria scenario in Ukraine, the same scheme that was used in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

True, in accordance with OSCE rules and regulations, elections cannot take place in territories where regular troops are stationed. So, as long as the demilitarization process has not been launched, no elections can be held in accordance with OSCE rules and regulations. But, we should open our eyes and understand how OSCE norms are actually interpreted by Russia and Europe. In fact, the OSCE is of little interest to Russia, and we have seen Europe’s attitude in PACE, so does anyone doubt that it will be any different with OSCE norms?

The Ukrainian side should draw up a strategy that would keep the situation under control. They should talk about the resettlement plan, as well as social and humanitarian issues in the Donbas and Crimea, which would enable Ukraine to control the situation and get the key messages out to the world. But, our short-sighted leaders have spun out of control. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has launched a torpedo strike called the “Steinmeier Formula”, which will eventually lead to the defeat of Zelenskyy’s strategy.

There is more than one reason to be alarmed. However, the most important thing for Ukrainian society today is to avoid violent street confrontations.  If regional and local councils collapse now, the situation will go from bad to worse. I do not envy the current political leadership, which will be charged with controlling this entire process.

Today, Ukraine faces a very dangerous choice. The Kremlin expects the Ukrainian government to swallow the bait called the “Steinmeier Formula”, which will inevitably give rise to civil unrest all across the country. As to how many territories Ukraine will lose, that will be a matter for Putin to decide. This is precisely the scenario that neither Zelenskyy nor his people can grasp.

In the end, all responsibility for the final outcome rests with the President of Ukraine. It is his team and his initiative.

There is a big difference between playing the president and being president.

Roman Bezsmertny


Former Representative of Ukraine to the Tripartite Contact Group in Minsk, Former Ambassador of Ukraine to Belarus


Translated by: Christine Chraibi


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