Donbas Expert on "Steinmeier Formula," "Red Lines," "Capitulation," and "Junta"
6 October, 2019
People attend a rally against President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's peace plan for Donbas on October 6 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Anastasia Vlasova / Hromadske

Editor's Note: The following is an opinion article by Oleksiy Matsuka, the chief editor of News of Donbas information agency. The views and opinions expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication.

I’m positive that we are now witnessing a crystallization process for parts of the plan that may become a brainchild of the Normandy Four and Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first substantial result in the president’s seat.

Zelenskyy does act in line of his predecessor Petro Poroshenko's paradigm. Back in 2016, the fifth president positively spoke about the Steinmeier formula:

“We spoke separately about the preparation for the elections and agreed at experts’ level, at the level of working groups, to carry on the work in preparing the selective legislation, implementation of the so-called Steinmeier formula.”

But in 2019, now that Poroshenko is no longer in power, he radically changed his position and is now mobilizing his supporters to attend demonstrations against Zelenskyy’s initiatives.

The fight for power within different centers of influence and financial and industrial groups is natural for democracies. But are some politicians not crossing the red lines of democracy, the same lines people had grown to like recently?

How often did Poroshenko and the old-time politicians think about these red lines of Ukraine’s democracy? And can they grasp the difference between fighting for power and the process of regulating a conflict?

Judging from the last five years, they understand the situation well. Otherwise how else would you explain Poroshenko’s change of rhetoric regarding the political and democratic way of resolving the conflict in the east?

Instead of actively helping the new government and protecting the idea of peace in Ukraine, the old guard is dreaming of their lost power and use the difficult process of regulating the conflict for their own political battle. They deliberately cross the red lines of the consensus possible only in democracies, as well as count on the conformity of target audiences of TV channels that are under their sphere of influence. 

For these purposes, aggressive and negative words are being used such as “capitulation” and “hand over.”

Unfortunately, some journalists follow the seasoned politicians’ suit and – instead of concentrating on the analysis of the contradictions that lie in the foundation of the conflict, monitoring the dynamics of opinions, moods in the civil society, as well as the government’s course – they fill their texts and video reports with template words. By the way, the motives behind the emergence of the word “junta” in 2014 look similar to the motives that led to the mass use of the word “capitulation” in 2019.

In the first days of the new Ukrainian parliament’s work, we observed decisions made in a so-called turbo-regime – one decision right after another.

October marked the start of turbo-regime work in the Office of the President. 100 days into his presidency, Zelenskyy directed his course at the start of stabilizing the situation in the Donbas. However, this course is being realized only in one area – the political one.

But this turbo-regime is needed, first and foremost, for the humanitarian side of the conflict – the reinstatement of pensions into Donetsk and Luhansk, the simplification to the highest possible degree of the entry-exit checkpoint crossing, canceling the restrictions regarding the transfer of goods and foods, the removal of the pressure toward the socially vulnerable groups of people, and the resolve of the question regarding the documents of the citizens of the unrecognized republics who enter the government-controlled areas.

The security area needs turbo decisions, too – an agreed-upon separation of forces, creation of plans regarding the control over weapon possession, and the work with the military and the volunteers. And this is where the society’s concerns can be clearly understood – Russia should not have any tools of influence over Ukraine’s domestic policies. This is what, by the way, Zelenskyy spoke of in his speeches in and outside of Ukraine, including during his visit to the UN General Assembly in the U.S.

The creation of the profiled ministries and the existence of the working groups under the president of Ukraine are supposed to facilitate this turbo-regime. Human rights protection NGOs have also become more active.

October 29-30 will see a big forum dedicated to the questions of reintegration and regulation of the conflict. The forum – which will be held in Mariupol, a government-controlled city 110 km south of separatist-held Donetsk – might mark the start of this turbo-regime for Ukraine’s ministry of culture, youth, and sports and the ministry of veterans, temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced people.

These two actors have the potential to become the key drivers of reintegration of the war-torn Donbas. But whether they will and how successful their work will be, can only be determined in one year time, when the new Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk reports on his work for the first time.

But, for now, it looks like Zelenskyy plans to pull Donbas back into the great Ukraine, as opposed to isolating the region with a concrete wall. 

The first since 2016 Normandy Four meeting (in its full capacity) may take place as soon as this autumn, in Paris. Therefore, it is high time for high stakes and closed meetings because Ukraine can and should become the main force of peaceful regulation, defending not just its own political actors’ interests, but the interests of its citizens and its democracy.