Steinmeier Formula and Why Ukraine Agreed to it
20 September, 2019

On September 18, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said that Ukraine had agreed to the so-called "Steinmeier Formula" within the framework of the implementation of the Minsk Protocol. Since the Formula was not enshrined in any of the documents, its interpretation remains open to this day. Hromadske explains what the essence of this Formula is and what its consequences will be for Ukraine.


What Is the Formula?

On September 14, at YES forum held in Kyiv, Prystaiko explained the content of the Steinmeier Formula at a joint briefing with the U.S. State Department Special Representative in Ukraine Kurt Volker:

1. The occupied part of Donbas must be granted temporary special status on the day of local elections in these territories.

2. If the OSCE recognizes this election as "democratic and in accordance with the standards of the organization", the Ukrainian Parliament should capture this special status in legislation on an ongoing basis.

Volker confirmed the validity of this statement at the briefing. However, they both stressed that the Formula only determines the procedure for fixing the special status of the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas AFTER the local elections, not the conditions under which these elections may take place.


Where Did It Come From?

The formula was proposed by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany and participated in the negotiations of the Normandy Four in 2016.

This formula is tied to the 2015 Minsk agreements and is, in fact, one of the formats for their implementation, in the part of holding local elections in the occupied territories of the Donbas, since it is this point in the protocol that the signatory countries interpret differently.

READ MORE: Ukraine FM Agrees on “Steinmeier Formula” for Donbas

In particular, the uncertainty concerns what should happen first: the introduction of the special status of the Donbas or local elections. Ukrainian Parliament approved the law on the special status of the Donbas in 2015, but because of the failure to fulfill its preconditions, which include the withdrawal of Russian troops among others, it has not yet come into force.


Under What Conditions Will Ukraine Fulfill It?

Earlier, Prystaiko stated that the Ukrainian authorities plan to hold the next local elections in the occupied Donbas territories and in the government-controlled territory simultaneously. At a briefing on September 14, he stated that this would be possible under certain conditions.

Among them: the withdrawal of foreign troops from the occupied territories of Donbas, access to media and observers. Also, elections should take place under the norms of Ukrainian legislation. So, in order for the Ukrainian authorities to implement the Steinmeier Formula, Russia must first fulfill its obligations under the Minsk agreements.


Is There Surrendering of Ukraine's Interests?

As political scientist Mykhailo Basarab explained to hromadske, Steinmeier's plan is criticized for suggesting that it simultaneously embodies both the security and the political component of the Minsk agreements: “Holding elections, and granting special status BEFORE the territory is de-occupied, Russian troops leave it, and Ukraine regains control of the border."

At the same time, he notes that the Steinmeier Formula itself does not offer anything that is not in the Minsk agreements already. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's team has repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to fulfill these agreements, and Western partners are calling for Ukraine to do so.

The question is only in what order Ukraine and Russia should fulfill their obligations. Volker assures that Ukraine will NOT be required to hold local elections in the Donbas BEFORE the withdrawal of Russian troops and Russian-backed fighters takes place.


Why Does Russia Insist on Fixing the Formula on Paper?

Fixing the Steinmeier Formula on paper is one of the prerequisites for a meeting of the Normandy Four, put forward by Russia. However, what this “consummation” means is understood differently in Kyiv and Moscow.

Following the talks of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk on September 18, the Ukrainian side confirmed its readiness to implement the Steinmeier Formula in the event of a ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign troops, and Ukraine regaining control of the border among other conditions.

The Russian side interprets this as Ukraine's refusal to sign this Formula. In fact, the Kremlin wants to force Ukraine to hold elections and introduce special status unconditionally.