Can Peace Plan In East Ukraine Finally Bring Peace?

KYIV, Ukraine -- After five and a half years of conflict in eastern Ukraine, military and diplomatic moves have begun with the aim of securing peace.

Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists have pulled back from three frontline towns and the stage is set for the first leaders' summit in years.

The story is moving fast. Let's break it down.

In April Ukraine elected as president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose main goal was peace in the east.

More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict between Ukraine's military and Russian-backed rebels.

Mr Zelensky is a political novice, a former comic actor, but more than half of Ukrainians have backed his push for a solution.

To secure a Paris summit on 9 December with Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of France and Germany, Ukraine has had to accept conditions.

These include a withdrawal co-ordinated with separatists from three frontline towns.

Opponents condemned the moves as a "capitulation" to Russia.

President Zelensky said he would talk even to "the devil" to bring peace to eastern Ukraine but some in Kyiv fear he is in too much of a hurry and risks falling into a Russian trap.

The chances of a successful outcome in Paris seem unlikely, but this is the first leaders' summit for over three years and the atmosphere has improved.

Russia has spoken of "very cautious optimism".

Before the summit could take place President Zelensky had to accept a 2016 deal granting special status to the separatist-held parts of Ukraine's Donbas region, and troops had to disengage from three places on the frontline.

The "Steinmeier formula" aims to break the impasse over peace agreements reached at the height of the fighting.

It details free and fair elections in the east under Ukrainian law, verification by the OSCE international security organisation, and then self-governing status in return.

Russian politicians hailed the signing of the deal in principle as a victory for Russian diplomacy. 

Ukrainian critics fear Kyiv could be bounced into legitimising Russian occupation of the Donbas, with a vote before Russian-backed forces withdraw and before Ukraine's military regains control of the 400km (249-mile) stretch of border with Russia.

Although Mr Zelensky achieved success at home with an eye-catching prisoner swap, his initial broad popularity has declined.

He has promised Ukrainians that he will never agree to elections in the east "under the barrel of a gun".

The conflict in the east broke out when Russian-backed separatists seized territory in April 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula.

Moscow has always denied sending regular troops to Donbas, but admits that "Russian volunteers" are fighting there.

Aside from the dreadful human toll of the dead and wounded, more than 1.5 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict.

Volodymyr Zelensky came to power with a decisive election victory over President Petro Poroshenko in April, winning more than 73% of the vote.

Millions of Ukrainians wanted to get rid of what they saw as corrupt political elites, but they also put their faith in a 41-year-old comedian-turned-politician who offered a route to peace after more than five years of fighting.

Backed by a popular mandate, he set about fulfilling the conditions for a summit - withdrawing from three frontline towns.

In June, Ukrainian troops and separatists withdrew a kilometre from Stanytsia Luhanska.

By late October, Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists had disengaged from Zolote and early in November they pulled back from Petrivske.

On a visit to Zolote Mr Zelensky told war veterans Ukrainians wanted a withdrawal and something had to be done to end the war.

But in his push to secure a summit, some of his popularity drained away.

Meanwhile, work began to restore the destroyed bridge at Stanytsia Luhanska - a key crossing used every day by thousands of people on both sides.

Mr Zelensky achieved popular success in September, with a long-awaited prisoner swap with Russia.

Mr Zelensky points to that as a "victory" that emerged from personal phone contact with the Russian president.

Significantly, on 1 October, Ukraine, Russia and the separatists agreed on special status for separatist-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

That signing was Moscow's key pre-condition for the 9 December summit of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany - known as the Normandy format.

Moscow and Kyiv have interpreted the so-called Steinmeier formula differently, but Russian media have described a plan that brings:

  • Temporary self-governing status for rebel-held areas at 20:00 local time on the day elections are held 
  • Permanent special status after the OSCE international security organisation verifies the elections were free and fair, and complied with Ukrainian law. 
"It is our serious success," said Russian Senator Aleksey Pushkov.

Russia is also keen to secure an amnesty for the rebels.

Ukrainian nationalists say the deal amounts to a surrender to Russia and are unconvinced by the president's assurances.

Mr Zelensky has set out a series of objectives and red lines:

  • The release of all Ukrainian prisoners 
  • A full and genuine ceasefire and withdrawal of all armed groups and weapons before any elections can be held in the east 
  • Participation by candidates from Ukrainian political parties in elections and not just pro-Russian parties 
  • The right of all those who have fled the conflict to return to vote Restoration of Ukrainian control over the 400-km stretch of the country's border with Russia currently controlled by rebels 
  • Despite his guarantees, protests have been held across Ukraine, with Mr Zelensky's opponents arguing implementation of the deal could result in Russian occupation of the Donbas being legitimised. 
 The Ukrainian president's opponents say he should not trust President Putin.

"I sincerely advise to avoid meeting one-on-one with Putin, and if this is impossible, resist his KGB manipulations and flattery," said ex-President Petro Poroshenko.

Another unknown factor is the role of the leaders of France and Germany.

Will France's President Macron view the summit as a chance to reset relations with Russia?

One former Ukrainian negotiator warned of the risk of going down a "path to war, not to peace".

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Kyiv says it is hard to see how the proposed elections would be fairly contested, even if held under Ukrainian law.

Most people with strongly pro-Ukrainian views left the rebel-held areas long ago, and Mr Zelensky's critics in Ukraine warn that proposed the deal could amount to a capitulation.

Source: BBC News


I. Nicholas said…
In my opinion, nothing will get accomplished. Putin is not going to let go of Ukraine, no matter what he says.
Scrat335 said…
Considering the hostile entities behind this Ukraine debacle I wouldn't either. Poland has eyes for a second PLC. The US wants NATO in Ukraine and Russia in chaos, the ultimate goal is the destruction of the Russian federation.

If I were Putin there would be Russian troops on the Dneipre river, if not the Bug.