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Mixed Reactions For Zelenskiy's Eastern Ukraine Election Deal

Ukrainian nationalists burn flares and hold a banner reading "No to capitulation" during their protest against the approval of so-called the Steinmeier Formula for elections in eastern Ukraine.

A deal announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to allow local elections in separatist-held parts of eastern Ukraine under certain security conditions has triggered a backlash, including protests, in Ukraine and praise from the Kremlin.

Opposition politicians and their supporters in Ukraine on October 2 showed their disdain for the deal, brokered in Minsk with Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which a day earlier Zelenskiy said would pave the way for peace talks with Moscow to end the war in the Donbas that has killed more than 13,000 since April 2014.

He added there would be no elections in separatist-held areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions until all armed formations have left the area and Ukraine regains control over about 400 kilometers of borderland with Russia.

"There cannot be and will not be elections held at gunpoint," Zelenskiy said. "There will be no capitulation."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

The occupied regions would receive self-governing status once they hold elections that are deemed to be free and fair by the OSCE, according to what is known as the Steinmeier Formula, a component of an overall road map for attaining peace.

The Kremlin said on October 2 that it approved of the deal, Russian media reported.

Moscow had demanded that Kyiv agree to the Steinmeier Formula before it would consent to four-way peace talks with Ukraine, Germany and France in the so-called Normandy format. The four countries have not met for peace talks since October 2016.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he expected a date to be set soon for Normandy four talks, the TASS news agency reported.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the conditions were "now in place for holding soon in Paris a meeting of heads of state and government under the Normandy format, with the aim of progressing on the path to a lasting solution to the conflict in Ukraine."

Despite evidence to the contrary, Russia has long denied playing any role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including supplying arms or other aid to the separatists.

Former President Petro Poroshenko, who lost in a landslide to Zelenskiy in Ukraine's presidential election in April, said the agreement was in fact a "capitulation to Russia."

The agreement is "playing into Russia's hands" because Ukraine has committed to holding the local election but did not receive any guarantees that it would regain control of all of its border with Russia, Poroshenko told reporters in Kyiv on October 2.

Former Ukrianian Yulia Tymoshenko in the Kyiv parliament on October 2.
Former Ukrianian Yulia Tymoshenko in the Kyiv parliament on October 2.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko also slammed the deal as a "direct threat to the national security, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of our country,” according to a statement released by her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party.

Former parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy said that he would push for hearings into the agreement, accusing Zelenskiy’s administration of not seeking input from society at large. Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party holds a majority in parliament after a snap election this summer.

Meanwhile, protesters, many of them supporters of right-wing groups, assembled outside the presidential office building in Kyiv late on October 1 to protest the decision.

Andriy Biletsky, leader of the far-right National Corps, said Zelenskiy "chose shame and now he will get war too."

Nationalist Svoboda party member Yuriy Syrotyuk said Zelenskiy had "committed treason."

Besides Kyiv, Ukrainian media reported that protests against the deal were also held in other Ukrainian cities, including Lviv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol.

Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist movement in Ukraine’s easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk after Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin president, was overthrown and western-leaning Poroshenko elected the same year.

Russia and Ukraine also agreed to renew pulling troops and equipment from two areas in the Donbas starting on October 7, the OSCE said in a statement.

Troops are already currently being withdrawn from Stanytsya Luhanska, one of the six civilian crossing points along the 450-kilometer front line where a civilian bridge over a river is being rebuilt after it was destroyed in the war, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

With reporting by UNIAN, TASS, and Interfax