By Theodore Shoebat
In the midst of the scenario of Trump’s administration freezing aid to Ukraine’s defense against Russia, other things have been taking place behind the curtains: Trump’s withholding of funds for Ukraine’s security put Zelensky in a difficult predicament as he was was getting pressure from Russia, Germany and France to agree to the Steinmeier Formula which demands for the formation of pro-Russian states within eastern Ukraine. This action has tarnished Zelensky’s image to the Ukrainian people many of whom see him as capitulating to both American and Russian pressure. On top of this, Trump told Zelensky that he should make a deal with Putin; by Zelensky signing onto Steinmeier, he was doing just that, agreeing to a deal. But this has sparked a nationalist backlash — and that includes a neo-Nazi outrage — towards Zelensky’s acquiescence in the face of the Russian and American powerhouses. If the deal goes through and eastern Ukraine is carved out, it could very well implode into a horrendous violence and conflict that could reverberate across Europe.
Lets talk about how Zelensky’s decision to sign the potentially destructive Steinmeier agreement was a ripple effect of European, Russian and American doing. In Trump’s leaked phone conversation with Zelensky, the Ukrainian president expressed his disappointment with the Europeans for not doing enough to protect Ukraine:
“It turns out that even though logically, the European Union should be our biggest partner, but technically the United States is a much bigger partner than the European Union, and I’m very grateful to you for that, because the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine.”
It was the Europeans who pressured Zelensky to sign onto the Steinmeier Formula which has been causing so much controversy in Ukraine, since it allows for autonomy in the disputed Donbas region (Donetsk and Lugansk), after local elections, a move which could lead to the carving of Russian satellite states within Ukraine. So it is understandable why such a formula would spark outrage. There seems to be disagreement between the Americans and Europeans over the priorities of the Steinmeier Formular, with the Americans putting emphasis on Ukraine taking control of its border with Russia and the Europeans putting importance on the referendum in Donbass which would lead to self-governance in two mainly ethnic Russian inhabited regions. In the words of Georgi Gotev:
“Reportedly, the US is pushing for a sequencing under which Ukraine will gain control over its Russia border before elections in Donbas as held. Reportedly, France and Germany don’t see such a necessity.”
The Europeans are desiring a policy that would be to the further advancement of a Russian foothold into Ukraine.
The situation of the Steinmeier Formula is quite strange. Ukraine is a very proud and nationalistic country, and its president, Zelensky, has signed onto an agreement that, if anything, gives dangerous leverage to Russia over eastern Ukraine, since self-governance in Donbass would allow Russia to have influence over two eastern Ukrainian regions. It appears that Zelensky had been pressured by the Europeans to sign onto the Steinmeier Formula, hence why Zelensky was desperate for an audience with Trump in order to get American help with security. In the words of Alexander J. Motyl, writing for Foreign Policy, Zelensky made a right move warming to the Americans because he cannot rely on the Europeans who have been pushing him to acquiesce to Steinmeier:
“Zelensky is absolutely correct on that score, because both Germany and especially France have turned a blind eye to Russia’s flagrant violations of international law in regards to Ukraine and are now actively seeking to pressure the country into accepting the so-called Steinmeier Formula for resolving the war in the Donbass by effectively granting Moscow veto power over Kyiv’s internal and external policies.”
The Europeans — the Germans and the French — are really pushing for a policy that would give a disadvantage to Ukraine and an advantage to Russia, which may explain why Zelensky was flattering Trump so much. It seems that Ukraine is in between two major poles of power, the USA on one side and the Europeans on the other. American officials of the traditional mentality want Ukraine to have secure borders against Russia and for Ukraine to buy natural gas from the Americans; the Europeans don’t see this push as necessary.
The Europeans want Ukraine to follow through with the Steinmeier, and Zelensky agreed to Steinmeier, it appears, under European pressure. Its possible that Zelenksy acquiesced to European demands because he could not get a promising security from the Americans on account of the Trump administration’s freezing of military aid to Ukraine. When Zelensky signed the Steinmeier, it was as though he had his back against a wall, as if he was between a rock and a hard place. In the words of the Daily Beast:
“Backed into the corner and seeming to stand alone there, Zelensky made a step toward a deal with Putin by officially signing up Ukraine to the Steinmeier Formula.”
Oleg Nilov, member of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, affirmed that Ukraine was “forced to sign” the Steinmeier Formula and then she began to threaten that if Ukraine does not follow through with the Steinmeier Formula that Russia will follow “the Israeli formula” of taking all the land Russia wants. If Ukraine was coerced or pressured to agree to Steinmeier, it was done so under the indifference of the Trump administration, giving Zelensky no other choice but to sign since he could not rely on the Americans. In fact, Trump told Zelensky outside of the United Nations that he could work out a deal with Putin over Crimea and Donbas. As we read from Vox:
“Then, after talking about showering Ukraine with military aid, Trump offered hope that Ukraine and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin — which seized Crimea and is supporting an insurgency in eastern Ukraine — could work things out. It’s a pretty remarkable statement.
“I believe President Putin would like to do something,” Trump said. “I really hope you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem. A tremendous achievement and I know you’re trying to do that.”
— Joe Sudbay (@JoeSudbay) September 25, 2019
So when Zelensky signed the Steinmeier Formula, he was doing what Trump suggested and what the Germans and French were pressuring him to do. Zelensky’s decision to sign onto Steinmeier has been detrimental to his image in Ukraine, with nationalists calling him a capitulator to Russian and American pressure. Sergey Korotykh, a major mercenary leader in Ukraine, and a neo-Nazi, in a recent interview, expressed his disappointment towards Zelensky:
Now only one thing comes to mind. Again, this applies to Zelensky and the disgrace taking place in France. Zelensky’s problem is that he clings to foreign policy partners, who are not even quite political, they are more private structures that simply make money in Ukraine. I recall Churchill’s words: “Britain has no constant enemies and constant friends, but only permanent interests.”
He went on to state that what truly matters in Ukraine is not Zelensky, since he has already weakened Ukraine with his negotiations and “defeatism,” but how strong the military of Ukraine is:
“He [Zelensky] needs to understand that his allies are not Macron and Merkel. His strength in the negotiations is only one thing – how strong his army is, how much it is motivated. The same goes for economics. As president, he is strong only in one case – if strength stands behind him. Peace at all costs is the ideology of defeatism. This will work for several months, give him a rating. Russia is always stepping on the weak. And what Zelensky is talking about leads us to weaken.”
In other words, Zelensky has only made Russia stronger and Ukraine weaker, and that the main priority is military might to fight the Russians. And notice what Korotykh says: “Peace at all costs is the ideology of defeatism.” The militant nationalists do not want peace with Russia, but war. Zelensky also predicts a global financial crises which will trigger a nationalist surge within Ukraine in favor of Azov, neo-Nazi paramilitary organization:
“As soon as the global financial crisis occurs, the work for the Ukrainians who left to work will end, and they will have no other choice but to return. And these are millions of people. And then they will face the fact that they returned to the stagnant state. They will have to somehow get involved in the process. And then, we really hope that Azov’s values will be scaled. and they will have no choice but to return.”
Ukrainian nationalists expressed outrage at Zelensky as a capitulator to the Americans and Russians. As the Daily Beast reported on a huge demonstration against Zelensky decision:
“Importantly, people believe the games that Trump and Giuliani have been playing with Ukraine have led to a sellout of Russian-annexed Crimea and the embattled Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. For critics here, the most damning evidence came when Trump met Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last month.”
Zelensky’s decision to agree to the Steinmeier Formula has triggered nationalist outrage, and maybe this is what the Germans and Americans wanted. Trump liked the idea of a deal between Zelensky and Putin. Zelensky agreed to the Steinmeier Formula, which stipulates the formation of self-governing states, inhabited mainly by ethnic Russians, in eastern Ukraine, posing a tremendous threat to Ukrainian security since it would form Russian satellites out of Ukrainian territory. The nationalist surge would become even more intense if this actually takes place. The whole “deal” could actually spark more conflict and war.
The Germans want a pipeline (Nord Stream 2, which they will be legally owned by Berlin) which will transport natural gas directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine and allowing Moscow to avoid very costly transit fees.
If (or really when) this pipeline is built, it will prevent the $2 billion which Ukraine’s economy has been receiving annually from transit fees. Russia having to go through Ukraine every time she wants to export natural gas is the only deterrence that Ukraine has from further Russian aggression. In the words of Constanze Stelzenmuller, writing for the Brookings Institute:
“Nord Stream 2 has been contentious since its inception in 2015 because it will deprive Ukraine of most of the estimated $2bn it earns annually in gas transit fees. It is opposed by the United States, while most of Eastern Europe is also against it.
A finished Nord Stream 2, by circumventing Ukraine, removes Kiev’s most powerful deterrent against further aggression by Moscow.”
The Americans want, in the words of Stelzenmuller, “to sell liquefied natural gas to Europe, and Poland wants to be part of the deal.”
So Germany wants a pipeline by which to get natural gas directly from Russia, while the US wants Europe to buy American natural gas. The story appears to be an obvious commercial rivalry between the Americans and Russians over who is going to be selling natural gas to Europe, with many Europeans desiring to buy American energy and not wanting the pipeline in fear of Russian encroachment.
Ukraine is stuck in the middle, open to the prospect of being vulnerable to further Russian aggression if the pipeline is established. This is why, during the Normady Summit in which the Steinmeier Formula was negotiated between Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, Zelensky emphasized certain things that are essential for his country’s security. He stressed that before local elections in Donbas (which would be followed by a detrimental autonomy for Donetsk and Lugansk), Ukraine must have control over its borders with Russia again. Russia, of course, disagreed with this and affirmed that according to the Minsk treaty elections must be held first.
Zelensky also stressed that Donbas and Crimea “are Ukrainian territories”. The Steinmeier Formula puts Ukraine in a very difficult place because it could lead the country susceptible to losing her eastern territories. Steinmeier (on October 1, 2019) was signed not just by Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, but by Russian backed separatists. What interests would they have? Forming a Russian satellite in eastern Ukraine.
“What Ukraine was so afraid of has happened… Zelensky doesn’t understand what he signed,” concluded Vladimir Soloviev, the host of the nightly The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev on Russian state television. In fact, Russian backed separatists are already prepared for tensions over the border between Ukraine and Russia. In a statement by separatist leaders we read: “the Kyiv authorities won’t get any control over the border”.
The contract that Russia and Ukraine made regarding gas transit expired on December 31, 2019. So Ukraine’s Naftogaz and Russia’s Gazprom signed a deal to ensure the flow of natural gas through Ukraine. The reason why this is so essential to the Ukrainians is because it is the transit agreement that deters further Russian aggression.
Nonetheless, many people in Ukraine see Zelensky as a capitulator who is vulnerable to Russian influence. Looking at the situation it appears that Zelensky was pressured by the Europeans to agree to the Steinmeier Formula and this is why Zelensky was willing to acquiesce to Trump to gain American funds for Ukraine’s defense against Russia. This may also be the reason as to why Zelensky emphasized so much with Trump that Ukraine will continue to buy American oil. Not too long after Trump asked Zelensky for an investigation on Hunter Biden and his role in the Burisma gas company, Zelensky, out of the blue, brought up the subject of energy independence:
“As to the economy, there is much potential for our two countries, and one of the issues that is very important for Ukraine is energy independence. I believe we can be very successful and cooperating on energy independence with United States. … We are already working on cooperation. We are buying American oil, but I am very hopeful for a future meeting. We will have more time and more opportunities to discuss these opportunities and get to know each other better. I would like to thank you very much for your support.”
Trump asks Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden and a moment later Zelensky brings up energy security and affirms Ukraine’s purchasing of American oil. What this appears to be is the result of American pressure; essentially American finances for Ukraine’s defense against Russia in exchange for information that could help Trump’s campaign. Trump knew that the Ukrainians were terrified of Russian aggression and knew that Zelensky wanted a White House audience to gain American support and took advantage of the situation by pressuring Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden by preventing defense funds from going to Ukraine. As we read in the New York Times:
“Mr. Zelensky’s efforts to secure a visit to the White House — a symbolic affirmation of support he considered vital at a time when Russia continued to menace Ukraine’s eastern border — seemed to be stalled.”
The same report states:
“William B. Taylor Jr., the top United States diplomat in Kiev, told House impeachment investigators that the freeze was directly linked to Mr. Trump’s demand. … In fact, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times. … The timing of the communications, which have not previously been reported, shows that Ukraine was aware the White House was holding up the funds weeks earlier than acknowledged.
It also means that the Ukrainian government was aware of the freeze during most of the period in August when Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and two American diplomats were pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a public commitment to the investigations.”
Trump used the opportunity of a White House meeting as leverage to what he wanted from Zelensky, on top of freezing aid allocated for Ukrainian defense. This was the Trump administration applying pressure on the Ukrainians. As the Ukrainians were striving for a White House meeting, Trump had a meeting with a dozen other leaders. As we read in the Washington Post:
“While Zelensky and his aides wrestled with Trump’s team to try to get a visit confirmed, leader after leader walked through the White House for a grip-and-grin. Strong allies of the United States, such as Canada and Australia. More dubious leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And, the salt in the wound, Russia’s foreign minister, even as the House finalized articles of impeachment.”
What we know is that the Trump administration froze military aid funds that were allocated for Ukraine’s defense and we know that Trump encouraged Zelensky to make a deal with Russia. Zelensky would sign onto a formula (Steinmeier) which could give eastern Ukraine (Donbas) over to Russian backed separatists, thus carving the region out into Russian puppet states. Why would Zelensky sign an agreement so tarnishing for his image? If Ukraine could have gotten its defense funds guaranteed from the Americans, its possible that he would have never signed it. It doesn’t make sense, unless there was pressure from countries more powerful than Ukraine.
The story is reminiscent to Reagan’s scandal of American hostages in exchange for arms deals with Iran which, with the public unaware, boosted Reagan’s image as the hero of the hostages (the October Surprise debacle); but this time it appears to be defense aid in exchange for an investigation to hurt a political rival. If perception of Zelensky being weak helps to reinvigorate even more ultra nationalist rage, it could be an incremental step in the staircase that spirals to a hell on earth.