Church and “Steinmeier formula”: what awaits Orthodox Ukrainians

07 October 2019 02:20
After the advent of peace in Ukraine, the heads of the After the advent of peace in Ukraine, the heads of the "patriotic" churches may find themselves in a difficult situation. Photo: UOJ

What and how will change in the religious sphere if peace comes to Ukraine

The representative of Ukraine in the Minsk negotiation process, ex-President Leonid Kuchma signed the so-called "Steinmeier formula". The assessments of this event were divided into diametrically opposite: from “betrayal” to “victory”.

What does this event really mean for Ukraine and how will it affect the religious sphere?

What is “the Steinmeier formula”?

To begin with, we’ll clarify what this notorious “Steinmeier formula” is since so many people express an opinion about it, having very distant ideas about the subject.

On September 5, 2014, the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia (the “Norman Four”) signed the so-called Minsk agreements of 12 points, which provide for a ceasefire in the zone of the armed conflict in the Donbass, a troop withdrawal, an exchange of prisoners, monitoring of the OSCE, the adoption of the law of Ukraine on certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the holding of elections there, etc.

On February 11-12, 2015, the “Norman Four” agreed on a set of measures to implement the agreements. This document is also called the Second Minsk Agreement. It spells out the terms and procedures for the implementation of agreements of 09/05/2014.

Soon, the Minsk Agreements were approved by the UN Security Council.

But despite all this, no single item has yet been implemented. To achieve their fulfillment, in 2016 the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, and now the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, proposed a method for implementing a set of measures to fulfill the Minsk Agreements, which was later called the “Steinmeier formula”.

The idea of the formula is simple: under the supervision of the OSCE in certain territories of the Donbass (unrecognized DPR and LPR), elections to local authorities are held according to the laws of Ukraine. On election day at 20:00 on a temporary basis, the law on the special status of these territories comes into force. And after the OSCE recognizes the elections as held in accordance with OSCE standards and Ukrainian legislation, the law on the special status continues to operate continuously.

The full text of the "Steinmeier formula" was published on the Internet.

The “Steinmeier formula”, signed by Leonid Kuchma. Photo: open sources

The signing of the Steinmeier formula by Ukraine was welcomed by all members of the “Norman Four”, as well as US President Donald Trump, the OSCE and even the NATO.

However, in Ukraine itself, this event was perceived ambiguously. Protests immediately began in Kiev, though quite a few so far. Protesters near the Verkhovna Rada demanded that the “formula” should not be implemented and called it the surrender of Ukraine to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The current opposition members sound like “all is lost”, though they, incidentally, approved and defended this very “formula” several years ago.

Former president Petro Poroshenko said: “No ‘Steinmeier formula’ exists in nature. This is all a Russian trick. Until yesterday, not a single representative of Ukraine, either verbally or in writing, supported this formula. And I as a direct participant in the Norman format negotiations said that Vladimir Putin repeatedly tried to push this initiative. The ‘Schneinmeier formula’ was invented in the Kremlin and protects Russian interests.”

The current opposition members sound like “all is lost”, though they, incidentally, approved and defended this very “formula” several years ago.

True, in 2016, Poroshenko had a generally positive opinion: “The issues of preparing for the elections were separately discussed at the level of experts and working groups, the work on preparing a concept for election legislation and the implementation of the so-called ‘Steinmeier formula’, in which we see the positions which should be the components in the recognition of the elections held."

As you can see, in 2016 Poroshenko did not at all interpret the “Steinmeier formula” as “betrayal” and a “Russian trick”. As a matter of fact, it is not such. Firstly, it is not Russian but German; and secondly, it is called upon to implement the Minsk agreements, which Poroshenko himself signed.

Expert word

The “Steinmeier formula” is neither “betrayal” nor “victory”. Implementing it is much more difficult than approving it. Political experts are paying attention to this.

Mikhail Pogrebinsky, Director of the Kiev Centre for Political Studies and Conflictology:

“Having assessed the external pressure from [French President Emmanuel] Macron, [German Federal Chancellor Angela] Merkel, [US President Donald] Trump, the Ze (President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky – Ed.)  team decided not to evade the signing of the ‘Steinmeier formula’. To fulfill it, you need to pass a law on elections in the Donbass. And there is an unlimited field for the failure of this project. Zelensky says that elections should be held according to Ukrainian law. So, if according to Ukrainian law, then Ukrainian media should cover them, any parties should campaign there. And how can they imagine a party like ‘Svoboda’ campaigning on the street [in the Donbass]?”

Ruslan Bortnik, Director of the Ukrainian Institute for Analysis and Policy Management:

“By and large, Zelensky faces the challenge of adopting two laws. Firstly, it is an election law, but nobody knows what this law will be like. And this should be not just a law proposed by Ukraine, but also a law that will be adopted and agreed on in the LPR / DPR. Secondly, the party in power should unblock and amend the existing law on the special status of Donbass, where privileges and broad rights for this region are already fixed.”

Enrique Menendez, head of the analytical centre "Donbass Institute of Regional Policy":

“This is a clear fact in the direction of peace. But nothing has changed dramatically. First of all, we don’t know specifically in what format the 'Steinmeier formula' is signed, what exactly it suggests. After all, it was announced back in 2016. As our practice shows, not a single official document, let me recall that Minsk-1 and Minsk-2 were also official documents, does not guarantee that they will be implemented. Regarding changes to the law on the special status, firstly, you need to see what will be written in this law, because the previous law did not work at all; and secondly, it is not clear whether there will be changes to the Constitution.”

If the "Steinmeier formula" is nevertheless implemented, this will mean a huge step towards peace in Ukraine. And the point is not so much in the law on the special status of certain territories of the Donbass, but in the fact that if elections are held in these territories, a legitimate local authority will arise with whom both the Ukrainian authorities and our international partners can negotiate.

Ultimately, both the Minsk Agreements and the “Steinmeier formula” are aimed at returning these separate territories of the Donbass to Ukraine - in its administrative, political, legal, economic, and cultural field. Obviously, this is exactly what the Ukrainian authorities have sought and what our soldiers have fought for.

But for some reason, Poroshenko and his supporters, primarily from radical nationalist organizations, do not like this. And all the cries and speeches of these political forces against the "Steinmeier formula" make clear their true goals and objectives. These political forces do not need the Donbass within Ukraine, they need a constant war.

The “Steinmeier formula” becomes such a litmus test that reveals and shows what different political forces are striving for: war and impoverishment or peace and prosperity of the state.

Churches on war and peace

The issue of peace or war in the Donbass reveals true desires and interests among religious organizations, too.

What is the position of religious organizations on the conflict in the Donbass? Who seeks peace and who seeks war?

Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church:

“Without a doubt, war cannot end in peace at all costs.”

"In this war, a new Ukraine is born."

"Those who are constantly thinking how to save their skin are tired of the war."

In the last statement that Sviatoslav Shevchuk uttered on September 29, 2019, there is a direct call for a continuation of the war.

His associates support the war even more openly. For example, the Uniate chaplain Nikolai Medinsky said: “What is happening in the east of Ukraine is the process of purifying the organism of the Ukrainian nation. We lose a lot but gain even more.”

Filaret Denisenko, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate:

“Our goal is the growth, the enlargement of the Kiev Patriarchate. And the Lord himself helps us in this. How? Allowed a war. And this war contributes to the growth of the Kiev Patriarchate.”

“You shouldn’t think that the Donbass population is not guilty of this suffering. Guilty! And it must atone for its guilt with suffering and blood. Voted in a referendum for federalization? Voted. Sinned? Sinned. This is the result of this sin.”

Epiphany Dumenko, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine:

“May the new year of God's goodness give us hope for the victorious end of the war in eastern Ukraine and the return of the annexed Crimea.”

“We must not forget that Ukraine is defending itself against external aggression. And we need to choose (in the presidential election – Ed.) the Commander-in-Chief, who in a state of war will be able to protect our Freedom from the encroachments of Russia.”

And Filaret’s subordinate in the past, now Epiphany’s, “Metropolitan” Mikhail Zinkevich of Lutsk in his sermons actually threatened to kill everyone who sympathizes with Russia: “The country will be forever. We will bury those who look north. We will still bury many and these as well.”

Such statements by schismatics and Uniates can be cited for a very long time. All their statements, sermons and interviews leave no doubt as to what their position is on the issue of war and peace. Why are they so afraid of peace in Ukraine? Why are they directly or indirectly calling for a continuation of the war?

All protests against the “Steinmeier formula” make clear the true goals and objectives of their authors. Their political forces do not need the Donbass within Ukraine, they need a constant war.

The answer does not seem so complicated. They need war in order to develop their religious organizations. 90-year-old Filaret stated this directly and openly: the war is needed for the growth of the Kiev Patriarchate. Schismatics and Uniates use war rhetoric, which they somehow call patriotic, to mobilize their supporters and attract new members. They build their agitation on the basis of such concepts as “nation”, “state”, “independence”, “aggression”. In war, this is a success. And in peace?

It is clear that in peace, it will be necessary to offer society something else – to talk about love, mercy, forgiveness, truth, and justice. It is quite problematic for the schismatics and Uniates.

Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, Primate of the UOC:

“With regard to the war in the Donbass itself. I want to emphasize that this is a civil war. I know from the bishops serving there, from many Donetsk people what is happening there. Often, the father serves in the National Guard, and the son is an "insurgent". Many brothers and friends are separated by a front line. As with any war, wicked people appear in it: murderers, looters and other criminals. But our Church condemned both the civil war that began in 1917 and the current one, following the “Revolution of Dignity”. Since 2013, we have called for reconciliation and forgiveness of each other. Only in this way will we preserve the integrity of our country and give it the opportunity to develop. The position of the Church is that it is necessary to end the war and stop killing each other."

And on May 8, 2015, Metropolitan Onuphry, together with other hierarchs of the UOC, did not rise during the commemorative meeting of the Verkhovna Rada, when Petro Poroshenko read out the names of the heroes of the ATO.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) and Archbishop Jonah (Cherepanov) at the meeting of the Verkhovna Rada on May 8, 2015. Photo:

This act, which caused an enormous wave of indignation and insults in the atmosphere of universal support for military operations in the Donbass, can be called heroic. This was the most striking protest against the fratricidal war, as His Beatitude Onuphry explained:

“Indeed, when the President spoke in his speech about the war in the Donbass land and about the heroes who distinguished themselves there in that military conflict, we did not stand up. And this was not a sign of disregard for the heroes of Ukraine. We honour and respect these people. These are people who have earned a great honour – such a high state award, and this award was given to them for risking their lives, and some gave their lives for it. Once again, we express our great respect for these people. We do not want the war to continue in our land. We do not want people to kill each other. We want peace and God's blessing in our land.”

What awaits Ukrainian denominations

Now imagine what can happen if peace in our country nevertheless comes. Indeed, the current signing of the "Steinmeier formula" gives, albeit little, but still hope for such a development of events.

Firstly, in peace, maybe not immediately, but gradually, everything that happened will be called by their proper names. And the civil war will be called a civil war. Even the presence of Russian troops, which Ukraine could not prove internationally in five years, does not affect the fratricidal nature of this war. Indeed, Ukrainian citizens have been killed on both sides of the confrontation, Ukrainian factories, bridges, roads, and houses have been destroyed on both sides, our compatriots have fought on both sides. And during the exchange of prisoners, Ukrainian citizens were exchanged for Ukrainian citizens.

Secondly, it turns out that the religious leaders of the schismatics and Uniates actually incited hatred and anger in the citizens of Ukraine, who were on both sides of the conflict, and directly or indirectly called for the continuation of the fratricidal war.

Thirdly, the OCU and partially the UGCC will lose the ideological basis for their existence. The fact that the OCU is an attribute of Ukrainian statehood has been repeated many times by Petro Poroshenko, Filaret Denisenko, and Epiphany Dumenko, and others. If, after the onset of peace in the Donbass, Ukraine develops both economically and in all other respects, it will turn out that the state does not need the OCU at all. And without such aggressive support of the OCU, which was during the past government, it simply cannot exist and develop.

Fourthly, in peace, when the order is restored and it becomes clear who really wanted peace and who wanted war, and also when the schismatics and Uniates lose state support, it’s hard to imagine that their parishes in the southern and eastern Ukraine will preserve their parishioners. They may just remain on paper.

Thus, with the advent of peace in Ukraine, it may turn out that the years of war in the Donbass were a "golden time" for the schismatics and Uniates. Apparently, this time is running out, and they will have to somehow explain to society their reluctance to end the bloodshed in the country.

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