This article was published by Public Radio International on November 6th, 2019.
Last month, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy stepped into the press room of the Bankova, — an imposing Soviet-era building with Corinthian columns — and made a public announcement that sparked nationwide confusion and then — anger: He stated that he agreed with Russia on a strategy to bring the five-year conflict in Eastern Ukraine to an end.
Among other provisions, a “special status” of autonomy would be granted to the Ukrainian territories currently controlled by Russia-backed separatist groups, in exchange for the region’s return to Ukrainian rule.
Tired of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, citizens remain split on the path toward peace — and how much Ukraine should give up to achieve it.
Outside, a few hundred people quickly gathered in Kyiv’s Independence Square to denounce Zelenskiy’s plan. On Oct. 14, two weeks after the press conference, nearly 12,000 protesters marched through the streets of the capital against what they saw as a “capitulation” of their government against Russia.
The protest, one of the largest in the Ukrainian capital since the 2014 Maiden revolution, became the most visible reaction to Zelenskiy’s attempt to move forward with the peace process.
Peace plan or ‘Putin formula’?
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old former TV star unexpectedly elected to the presidency in April 2019, may see the agreement as the only way to end a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced more than 1 million others since 2014, and created a 265-mile frontline cutting the Ukrainian Donbas region in half.
The plan, called the “Steinmeier Formula,” after the former German foreign minister who first devised it in 2016, is derived from a peace agreement first signed in Minsk in 2015, but never fully implemented. The 1-page document signed on Oct. 1 requires Ukraine to hold elections in the separatist territories under international supervision as well as to define a “special status” of autonomy for the region.