A New Path to Peace in Ukraine?

A New Path to Peace in Ukraine?

You may know Ukraine from such ongoing dramas, or tragicomedies, as The Impeachment of Donald Trump, but the war-wracked country has much bigger issues to address closer to home.


For five years, the Ukrainian government has been at war with Russian-backed separatists who control territory in the eastern part of the country. The conflict, which erupted after protests ousted Ukraine's pro-Russian president in 2014, has left 13,000 dead and a million people displaced. Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed at the start of hostilities, is still under Kremlin control.

But a fresh path to peace has just opened up.

Yesterday Ukraine agreed to a plan for elections in the separatist-controlled provinces, as a step towards reviving peace talks.

The basic details of the so-called "Steinmeier formula," named for the German foreign minister who first sketched it out, are as follows:

1) Elections will be held under Ukrainian law and monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

2) If the OSCE endorses the vote as free and fair, then the areas will officially be reincorporated into Ukraine, with a "special status" that gives them a measure of autonomy

3) Separatists will disarm and Russia will give full control over the Ukraine/Russia border back to Kyiv

So far so good, right? Sort of. There are two big problems here:

First, the border. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured above) has suggested Ukraine wants control over the border before the vote takes place. "We won't hold elections under the barrel of a gun," he told reporters yesterday. The Kremlin certainly won't like that idea – holding the frontier has made it easy for Moscow to send guns and butter to its proxies.

Second, what's "special status"? Russia has long wanted Ukraine to make constitutional amendments that would give the separatist-controlled areas influence over Kyiv's broader foreign policy: for example, the ability to stop Ukraine from joining the EU or NATO. But the Steinmeier formula doesn't go nearly that far, and the Ukrainians say that they won't write any kind of special status into the constitution anyway. Will Moscow and Kyiv be able to find common ground on this critical issue?

Overall, the deal would be good for Ukraine in the sense that it regains lost territory and could end a war in which Kyiv is hopelessly overmatched. That was one of Zelensky's main campaign promises.

But it also means legitimizing the separatist proxies of a hostile foreign government, while putting Kyiv on the hook for the economic and social stability of provinces that it will control only weakly. And nationalists in Ukraine are already upset about what they see as a capitulation.

From Russia's perspective, it's a decent deal, too. Sure, the Kremlin would have to give up on a low-level conflict that keeps Ukraine from moving any further into the Western orbit. But normalizing and legitimizing its separatist proxies within Ukraine is a huge win for the Kremlin, which would retain significant control over the situation there anyway. The prospect of sanctions relief would be a bonus too, though none of this peace agreement would affect Crimea, where Russia's annexation prompted the most serious US and EU restrictions on Russia. To be clear: Russia isn't going to leave Crimea any time soon.

Whether Kyiv and Moscow and the separatists can actually agree to a framework that addresses these questions is unclear. But with Ukraine set to meet soon with Russia, France, and Germany to hash out details, it looks as though a path to peace has opened.

How far it will lead remains to be seen.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

More Show less

(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.

More Show less

32: Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote on Friday after only 32 out of 130 lawmakers supported his removal for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. Vizcarra was in peril just a week ago, but the case for impeachment lost steam after the president was backed by the military and influential opposition leaders who insist the country needs stability to fight COVID-19.

More Show less