No free elections in eastern Ukraine if Russians stay: US envoy | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.11.2019
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No free elections in eastern Ukraine if Russians stay: US envoy

The peace process in eastern Ukraine has a chance if Russia pulls out of the conflict zone, James Gilmore, the United States ambassador to the OSCE, told DW. The organization plays a key role in mitigating the conflict.

Ahead of a crucial summit on eastern Ukraine in Paris, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), James Gilmore, was cautiously optimistic about peace chances for the region.

"If there's a summit meeting, if the Minsk process continues on, and if the Russians remove themselves from this conflict zone, we will know that the Russian government has changed their attitude and it is time to bring peace to Ukraine," Gilmore said in an interview aired by DW on Wednesday. "But until then we just have to wait and see if they're in good faith."

Read more: The forgotten victims of Donbass

The meeting in the so-called Normandy format, with the presidents of Ukraine, Russia France and the German chancellor, is scheduled for December 9 in Paris. It will be the first personal meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who took office in May. It will also be the first summit in Normandy format since 2016. This format originated in France during D-Day celebrations in June 2014, when the presidents of Russia and Ukraine met for the first time after the Russian annexation of Crimea.

'Russians must extend hand to Ukraine'

Ukraine recently fulfilled two Russian preconditions for the summit: the separation of Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatist forces at three places along the division line and the signing of the plan known as the Steinmeier formula. This approach, proposed in 2015 by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's then foreign minister, is supposed to help break the deadlock of the Minsk agreement.

James Gilmore

James Gilmore has been US ambassador to the OSCE since July 2019

The OSCE has a central role in the implementation of the Steinmeier formula. The plan calls for Ukrainian legislation granting the separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk de facto autonomy to enter into force temporarily on the evening after local elections and permanently after the OSCE certifies those elections as having met its standards.

'Steinmeier formula could work'

"Now it's really up to the Russians to go forward and do what is necessary to carry out the Minsk accords," Gilmore said. "President Zelenskiy has, in fact, extended himself out. He's taken political gambles; he's trying to do what is necessary to keep his promises. He's trying to actually end this conflict through diplomatic channels, and now it's up to the Russians to extend their hand of friendship back out to the Ukrainian people."

Read more: Vladimir Putin's 'Crimea effect' ebbs away 5 years on

Gilmore said he believes that the Steinmeier formula could work if the Russian side is committed and prepared.

"Their duty now under the Steinmeier formula is to remove their troops from eastern Ukraine," he said. "As long as the Russians and their army and their soldiers are there, there can't be free and fair elections, and therefore they have to get out."

Russia denies any military involvement in eastern Ukraine.

DW's Zhanna Nemtsov interviewed James Gilmore.

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