October 23, 2019

Protests flared up across Ukraine following President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Oct. 1 announcement that his government had agreed to the “Steinmeier Formula,” a controversial peace plan for the Donbas conflict proposed by former German Foreign Minister (and current President) Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Demonstrations are scheduled to continue in the coming weeks and could undermine investor confidence in what is already one of Europe’s poorest countries.


Details of the Controversial Steinmeier Formula  

The Steinmeier Formula calls for the separatist-controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk to hold new elections under Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observation, but independent of Ukrainian central authorities. Once this is achieved, the territories will be granted self-governing status within Ukraine, maintaining independent legislative, judicial, and policing authorities. In exchange, the central government will resume control of the external border with Russia.


Ukrainians Remain Skeptical of Electoral Process

Many Ukrainians express concern that, since the occupied territories will be able to hold independent elections, separatist militant leaders could become legitimate members of the national government. Veterans’ associations and civic organizations tied to pro-EU opposition parties are particularly opposed to this. Their common perception is that EU member states want to ignore aggression against Ukraine in favor of normalizing economic relations with Russia. Zelensky has attempted to alleviate such concerns, stating that all elections will comply with Ukrainian law and that polling stations that report the presence of armed militants will not have their results recognized. The opposition remains skeptical.  

Polling data suggests that the majority of Ukrainians are opposed to the Steinmeier Formula, though it remains unclear to what extent this will challenge government policy. Zelensky’s party, Servant of the People, holds a strong majority in the Ukrainian Parliament and can pass legislation regardless of opposition efforts. Zelensky has shown no signs of backing down despite growing protests across the country.


Protests Following Steinmeier Formula Declaration

As many as 20,000 people marched through central Kyiv Oct. 14. No violence was reported, though police closed off several streets near the Presidential Administration as a precaution. Activists gathered near the national monument of Taras Shevchenko and marched north through central Kyiv toward St. Sophia’s Cathedral and the Bohdan Khmelnytsky monument – all important symbols of Ukrainian statehood. The route brought protesters in proximity of many international embassies, universities, business centers, and tourist destinations, likely a strategy to garner media attention. Parallel demonstrations were held throughout Ukraine, in cities such as Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kryvyi Rih, and L’viv, with attendance varying from several hundred to 5,000. Localized travel disruptions persisted for several hours across the country.   

Most of the mid-October demonstrations rallied around the banner “No Capitulation!” There does not appear to be central planning between the different locations. Clashes have been avoided so far, and the security services, who wish to promote their recent reform record, have seemed to adopt a cautious posture. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, to whom the police ultimately report, is known to have cordial relations with several protest leaders, decreasing the likelihood of violence in the short term. However, Ukrainian protests have historically spilled away from the agreed venues and routes, illustrating the need for businesses located in the affected area to have contingency travel plans.


The Impact of Ukrainian Protests

Demonstrations will likely continue as the situation develops, especially once Steinmeier Formula begins implementation. Ukrainian paramilitary organizations, technically part of the National Guard but functionally independent, have publicly pledged to “defend Ukrainian territories, even if Kyiv will not.” It remains unclear whether they will withdraw from the line of control along with regular armed forces if ordered. Economic stability and investor confidence will likely weaken in Ukraine over the next six months unless the new administration is able to reassure concerned parties.

As the demonstrations are likely to continue, it’s important for organizations to remind personnel of the following basic principles of personal safety measures.

  • Be aware of and avoid all areas with planned demonstrations or protests.
  • If in a protest situation, immediately leave the area or seek indoor shelter in a safe location and immediately notify your company security department or security hotline for advice and assistance.
  • Route planning is critical to avoid demonstrations and be sure to allow extra time for travel as demonstrations may disrupt travel routes.

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