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The introduction of the "Steinmeier formula" in Ukrainian law is what the heads of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia agreed on Monday night, among other things, during the Normandy Four summit in Paris. Ukraine and Russia's interpretations of the document differ. UNIAN explains what the "Steinmeier formula" actually means and how it might influence the settlement process in Donbas.

Who is Steinmeier?

Frank-Walter Steinmeier is a former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany. He held this position from 2005 to 2009 and from 2013 to 2017. During 2016, he also led the OSCE. Now he is Federal President of Germany. Steinmeier has his own vision for the Donbas settlement mechanism, which led to him often being mentioned in this context. Hence the name of the mechanism, the Steinmeier formula.

What is the Steinmeier formula?

The mechanisms for implementing the Minsk Agreements, proposed by Steinmeier in October 2015, have already been called a "formula". The former foreign minister of Germany announced his proposals on the issue at the Normandy Four Summit in Paris in October 2015, and later they were confirmed at a similar meeting in Berlin a year later. The Steinmeier formula is no legal act. It is just one of the options for a political and legal settlement in eastern Ukraine without the introduction of a military component.

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De facto, the Steinmeier formula is laid down in Steinmeier's letter, written together with the then Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius, to ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

What does Steinmeier offer?

The main way to resolve the situation in the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is to hold local elections there. An important detail is that they shall be held in line with Ukrainian legislation and according to OSCE standards. To this end, the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group's political subgroup was entrusted with the task of developing a bill on local elections in the occupied Donbas, while the Verkhovna Rada was to adopt it withiin four weeks. Following the adoption of the law, elections were supposed to take place within 90 days. On election day, a law shall be enacted on the special status of the said parts of eastern Ukraine on a temporary basis. The law can be enforced permanently if the elections are recognized by Ukraine and the OSCE observers. The security component was separately noted, including the access of observers to border areas.

The document says the following:

"This law shall enter into force at 20:00 local time on the day of voting in early local elections in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, scheduled and held in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine and the special law of Ukraine regulating the holding of local elections in the mentioned districts. It will act on a temporary basis until the publication of the final report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, in accordance with established OSCE/ODIHR practice, regarding the compliance of early local elections with OSCE and international standards for democratic elections, and with Ukrainian laws. The report should answer the question agreed upon in Normandy Format, approved by the Trilateral Contact Group and forwarded by Ukraine in its invitation letter and by OSCE Chairmanship to ODIHR Director.  

This law continues to act on a regular basis if the OSCE/ODIHR Final Report concludes in accordance with established OSCE/ODIHR practice that early local elections in separate areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions were generally held in general in accordance with the OSCE and Ukrainian standards. The report should answer the question agreed upon in Normandy Format, approved by the Trilateral Contact Group and forwarded by Ukraine in its invitation letter and by OSCE Chairmanship to ODIHR Director."

Why wasn't the document implemented?

In this case, the answer is simple: Russia and its proxy forces failed to create conditions for the holding of elections in the occupied areas, of which Steinmeier's letter speaks.

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This fall, the package of measures was brought back on international agenda. On October 1, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said that the Ukrainian side at the negotiations of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk responded to a letter by OSCE Special Envoy Martin Sajdik, which agrees the Steinmeier formula. Later, the document itself, signed in Minsk by Ukraine's representative Leonid Kuchma, was published by his press secretary.

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According to the text, Ukraine agrees to hold early elections in the occupied areas of Donbas and, if they are recognized, the law on the special status of Donbas starts to operate on a permanent basis.

Zelensky's position

The president of Ukraine, commenting on the letter signed by Kuchma, said that there will be a new law that will be developed by parliament in close cooperation and in discussion with the public, and not a single "red line" will be crossed in it. "That's why there is no and there'll never be any surrender. No surrender," Zelensky said, adding that local elections will not take place if foreign armed forces remain in Donbas.

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The president of Ukraine reiterated the same point at yesterday's joint press conference with other participants in the Normandy Four summit.

What the Kremlin says

Putin's team never hid the fact that Ukraine's consent to the "Steinmeier formula" was one of the conditions for holding a Paris summit. According to Kremlin speaker Dmitry Peskov, its rejection "would slow down the process of resolving the conflict in Donbas."

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Putin went even further, stating that Ukraine should approve the conditions of the "special status" of Donbas with militants. Speaking about the "Steinmeier formula", he indicated that it is a tool for its implementation and even a compromise.

UNIAN memo. The Steinmeier formula is de facto tied to Minsk-2, a package of measures to implement the Minsk Protocol, agreed at the Normandy format summit in February 2015. The document provides for an immediate ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides, and monitoring by the OSCE SMM. The package also deals with the "all for all" hostage exchange, amnesty and pardon by special law, restoration of Ukraine's full control over the entire border with the Russian Federation, withdrawal of all foreign military groups and weapons, and disarmament of illegal armed groups. Separately, constitutional reform is envisaged in Ukraine regarding decentralization, as well as the adoption of permanent legislation on the “special status” of the certain areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.