Are elections in eastern Ukraine a good move?
Thousands of people demonstrated on the weekend against the government in Kiev's approval of the so-called "Steinmeier formula". This plan envisages elections and a special status for the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, but also the patrolling of the border with Russia by Ukrainian government forces. Europe's press discusses the opportunities and risks of the compromise.
A step towards de-escalation
The pro-Russian daily Duma explains the significance of Kiev's decision to adopt the Steinmeier formula:
“Ukraine's signature is without doubt an important step towards de-escalation and restoring peace. But it is too early to start blowing the horn of victory. The German president's formula defines the political role of the Minsk agreement. It is the starting point for political solutions: constitutional amendments, the establishment of a special status and the holding of elections in the People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. ... But the road to lasting peace will not be an easy one because the old nationalist elite will continue to try to sabotage the efforts of the new leaders.”
Kremlin closer to achieving its goal
The opposition website Yeshednevny zhurnal sees the compromise as a double victory for the Kremlin:
“On the one hand elections in the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic on Ukraine's territory will legitimate the administrational structures put in place by the Russian occupying regime. They will turn a gang into 'legally elected representatives of the people'. On the other hand the so-called special status is precisely what the Kremlin has been aiming for all these years: a chunk of Ukraine's territory will in effect no longer be fully 'Ukrainian'. The side effects are of key relevance: any political turbulence in Ukraine clearly plays right into the hands of the Kremlin. Because the true goal of Russia's policies vis-à-vis Ukraine is to destroy the state.”
Zelensky still has backing now
This could be a good time for elections in eastern Ukraine, Helsingin Sanomat speculates:
“Why did Zelensky decide to pursue a plan that is opposed by many in Ukraine? Presumably because he believes there won't be a better time for it. He's just won the presidential and parliamentary elections and still enjoys substantial support. And perhaps Russia has really started to rethink its strategy in the region. Normally, the US would be lurking in the background and backing the idea of taking such a risk. Now, however, the situation is unclear. President Donald Trump has called Ukraine a corrupt buffer state on television, and is using the aid the US provides as leverage. Perhaps Zelensky believes waiting any longer won't improve the situation.”
Waging war easier than making peace
Those who want peace must risk a loss of popularity, said Juan Manuel Santos, former president of Colombia, in a speech at the Yalta-European Strategy (YES) conference in Kiev published in Novoye Vremya:
“I was elected in 2010 because I had been very successful in the war. But as soon as I started negotiating with the former enemies my popularity waned - people called me a traitor. ... Achieving peace means drawing a line between peace and justice. And there will always be those who don't agree with your decisions. ... This is the political price you pay for peace. If you want peace you have to be willing to make concessions. ... Seeking peace is far more difficult than continuing the war, and you certainly put your political capital at risk.”