German president defends peace plan for Donbas

Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has rejected criticism of the conflict settlement plan he proposed to resolve the Donbas war in eastern Ukraine, the German press has reported.

“The formula contains nothing more than an attempt to turn big steps that both sides of the conflict were not ready to take into a series of small ones,” he told reporters while on a visit to Georgia, adding that the sequence of steps taken to end the war in Ukraine still have to be thoroughly discussed.

The German president also noted that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia within the so-called Normandy format had not advanced for three years.

While serving as Germany’s foreign minister in 2015, Mr Steinmeier suggested a roadmap that included holding local elections in the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions under Ukrainian law. According to him, if the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declares that the vote has taken place without major election violations, the separatist territories will be granted permanent special status.

The roadmap, which later became known as the Steinmeier formula, was ignored for four years, until Ukraine’s current president Volodymyr Zelensky came to power.

Mr Zelensky, who endorses holding local elections in the Russian-controlled areas, said that the Ukrainian parliament would propose a new bill on the interim special status of the Donbas region by the end of 2019, which would turn into permanent status once the OSCE concludes that the vote was conducted in accordance with international standards.

On October 6, at least 10,000 people protested in Kyiv against the Ukrainian president’s settlement plant, calling it a “capitulation” to Russia.

Responding to the protesters’ criticism, Mr Steinmeier denied that Russia, whose government said that the implementation of the formula was a precondition for the next round of Normandy talks, had an influence in crafting the roadmap back in 2015 and 2016.