by Mustafa Nayem
Just a few months ago, Pavlo Klimkin was Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany. He is among the few Ukrainian diplomats who know all the details and opaque games associated with the EU Association Agreement. It is his signature that appears on all the pages of the initialed historical document, and it was he who introduced many Ukrainian officials in the Yanukovych government to influential representatives of European institutions.
This is the first extensive interview with Pavlo Klimkin as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
He agreed to meet us the very next day after the crash of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet. He watched the UN Security Council meeting in the studio together with reporters from hromadske.TV and Ukrainska Pravda. He tried but did not always succeed in suppressing his emotions. When asked, “What do you feel when you listen to Churkin?” Klimkin laughed: “Oh! I have many emotions,” he said. “But if I tell them to you now, I will be accused of the same thing as (former foreign minister) Andriy Deshchytsia. So I won’t say anything.”
The Malaysia Airlines disaster
Let’s begin with current news. What is the latest information regarding the investigation of the Malyasia Airlines disaster?
– There is information, but I would not want to repeat what we know since the investigation is ongoing. We have held talks in the format of a video conference with those who control the situation, the terrorists of the Donetsk People’s Republic, and we have agreed that the OSCE observers and our team from the State Aviation Service of Ukraine will have access to the crash scene.
Where are the black boxes from the plane. Were attempts made to take them to Russia, as the militants promised?
– The black boxes have been found (as of Friday, July 18 — Ed.). They are in Ukraine, and I believe they will be turned over to a government commission, including representatives from ICAO, as well as representatives from Holland and Malaysia and, of course, the country of manufacture (of the plane — Ed.) — the United States. We have invited all parties. The British have wonderful experience, and even if some evidence is partly destroyed, I expect the truth will be determined, and fairly quickly.
Is there any information now on the circumstances of the crash?
– From what we know, the plane – its radar label – almost immediately disappeared from radar screens. This means that the plane was, unfortunately, not descending as a result of some technical problems, but that it disappeared from the radar screens. In addition, we have intercepted conversations and posts on social media. Based on multiple factors we can say that the plane was shot down.
There was information immediately after the tragedy that the plane could have been brought down from a missile launched from Russian territory. Has this information been confirmed?
– This will become evident only after the investigation and analysis of the satellite images. We are able to obtain this information, and we have already asked the appropriate questions. Among them is the sequence of events — the Ukrainian aircraft that have already been shot down, the shelling of our positions from Russian territory — all this adds a completely different dimension to the situation.
Is the Russian side providing any information available to it? They are our closest neighbors and theoretically could have data on the tragedy.
– I know that the Russians have expressed the idea of being involved with the investigation of the International Aviation Committee (IAC). Our position is very clear: this investigation must be completely impartial and transparent. And for this we need the best international expertise that is available at the ICAO and the United States, since they are the manufacturer of the aircraft.
As soon as the place was shot down, the president said that Ukraine is changing the tactics that would allow for the direct involvement of the armed forces of foreign countries. Could you translate what that means — would we receive military aid from other countries?
I would say yes. Today were are getting help from other countries, but it does not currently include access by the armed forces of other countries to Ukrainian territory. What happened in Ukraine could be compared to 9/11. It is a terrorist act that killed 300 people. And it is possible that we will need other forces and means for protection against this terrorist threat.
I am sure that we are fully able to do that ourselves if Russian intervention ceases. But right now we need help. And we are not talking about military help from foreign countries but about the necessity for help, so that we can cope with the threat of terrorism.
It should be clearly understood that according to the terminology of international law, we are not involved in a conflict between countries, and we do not have any internal conflict. We have separatists and terrorists who control certain territories in the east of Ukraine. We are establishing order in the country. That is what this is called.
NATO, EU, and Security guarantees
Today almost the entire hierarchy in Ukraine and all the top people point to the involvement of the Russian Federation in this conflict, but officially we continue to speak about the antiterrorist operation. Many people are angered by our refusal to use the term “war.”
– The question is not what term to use. Simply if we refer to the UN charter, the cases of aggression are clearly listed. Even one shot from the territory of another country is an act of aggression. This is true even under the international law statute of the UN, if you remove any political connotations. Regarding war, it must be declared.
With obvious facts of aggression on the part of one of the countries, can we engage the forces of another country in our defense?
– First of all, the armed forces of other countries must be ready to give us such help. Unfortunately, we are not members of any security organizations, such as NATO, and we cannot call on the principles of solidarity according to the fifth article. Second, in order to engage the armed forces of other countries, we need a resolution by the UN or the OSCE. And there decisions are made by consensus. Today there is no such consensus.
However, we have many other ideas. First of all, the association agreement with the EU allows us to create so-called tactical battle groups with various countries of the EU. The second idea is the possibility for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia to become allies of NATO without becoming formal members of this organization.
It is not very clear what an alliance without membership means — what would it give us? And would the principle of collective defense apply?
– This is an absolutely innovative idea in the history of NATO. NATO says they are willing to explore the idea regarding engagement in the security space of countries which, for various reasons, cannot become NATO members. The outlines of this alliance will be defined at the NATO summit in early September in South Wales.
NATO is not the European Union. The European Union, despite being a classical and staunch advocate of European integration, represents a type of structural inertia. NATO, however, can respond to appeals very quickly. My prediction is that, in principle, decisions of that kind can be reached fairly quickly.
Let us speak plainly: will this help us defend our territory on the military plane? And could this be considered the first step toward membership in the alliance?
– I will speak as a diplomat: there are decisions according to which security is indivisible. This term includes many concepts and in the NATO context it is not only the military security that is important. There is also the informational dimension, cyber security and so on. As for membership, this is not really the first step. To a certain extent, it’s a parallel story. But you know that when you have two parallel tracks, they can always be merged.
Won’t this end up being another Bucharest summit, where Ukraine failed to obtain the MAP (Membership Action Plan)?
– I remember the Bucharest summit very well, and I remember how the decision was reached. But I would not begin to think that everything is lost now. I believe that much has changed since that time. I’m a physicist by training and I constantly tell the story about Einstein who assigned problems during an exam. One student raised his hand and said, “But these are the same problems as two years ago,” And Einstein responded, “Yes, but the answers have changed.”
I believe that the answers regarding safety have changed. I will give you one very simple example. Do you remember the response of the European Union during the war in Georgia in 2008?
Only words …
– Not completely, but partially true. Furthermore, the European Union invented the “Partnership for Modernization ” program for Russia. Do you know of any success of this program? It does not even exist now! That is why I a convinced that the European Union and NATO will react quite differently to events in Ukraine.
Are you sure about this?
Yes. I have been dealing with the European Union for almost 12 years. The decisions they are making today represent something of a revolution for them. In general, the very fact that the EU is speaking with one voice on foreign policy is not trivial. When the EU accepts to speak with one voice and has the support of all members regarding concrete actions toward Russia, this is an entirely different reality.
You may be right. But during the Georgia war I was in Tbilisi and I clearly remember how everyone there was happy about the tough statements by the EU, about the arrival of Condoleezza Rice. And all expected some miracle to happen and for Russia to withdraw. But diplomacy did not keep pace with Russian armies, and eventually the US and EU pushed Georgia to come to terms with the situation simply because the EU countries and the US did not want to get involved, did not want to waste their reputation, money, ratings, etc?
– It appears that way. But I’ll say one not very conventional thing. I believe that events in Georgia absolutely cannot be compared to our events. And I would risk saying why. I believe Georgia then accepted the channel that was imposed on it.
Imposed by whom — by the US and EU?
– That is another question. There were many players there. And it would be completely unconventional for me to say who exactly. But today in Ukraine we will not allow for that to happen. We are conducting talks in various formats and on various levels. And if a certain format is not satisfactory, we clearly reject it.
Naturally there are countries that want to settle the conflict in a gradual, mild process that is convenient for some. But we have studied conflicts and conflict cycles very carefully, staring with Transnistria, and believe me we have learned a lot. We will not allow for the events taking place to be reduced to some format that happens to be convenient for somebody. Above all, it must suit us.
There are many things that I can negotiate. But the issue is what cannot be subject to any negotiation. First, is the fact that Ukraine will become a democracy. Second, even if it sounds dramatic, that Ukraine has a European vocation and that it must move in the direction of European values and standards.
Everything else can be approached creatively. But these two positions are a given and an absolute. And we will not allow what is happening around us to be forced into a format that is convenient for somebody. That is not our goal.
When comparing the positions of the US and the EU, the average citizen would think that the US position in this conflict is tougher than the EU one?
– There is an explanation. The EU consists of 28 countries. We have to understand that the EU always represents the smallest denominator, with many different ideas regarding EU’s fate and the place it occupies in the world. There are no simple answers. And the US has a strategic vision of this world and a clear global understanding of how to protect the values they understand and the interests that are clearly defined for them.
Do I understand correctly that Ukraine for the first time has begun to be a player not only between Russia and the West, but between the EU and the US by trying to force them to compete for the role of peacemaker or influential player in this region?
– That is correct, but I will tell you even more. We have to understand that the world has changed during this time. In this world there no longer is a classic West and a classic Russia. Zero sum geopolitics no longer exists. It’s a networked world.
What was Russia’s plan? In a very simplified form, it provided for the establishment of a partnership of supranational organizations, of two unions — the European Union and, conditionally, the Eurasian Union. This was invented to gradually balance the development of other “power centers.”
Therefore, it was the convergence of the Anglo-Saxon world and the conditional Asian world. The idea, maybe in the beginning, wasn’t even bad, but in the classical sense, it was never really supposed to be realized.
Today we live in a completely different world. We have Türkiye, China, the Asian dimension. If we play in the framework of “this or that” we will necessarily lose. We have to take advantage of the opportunities of another world to win.
Angela Merkel and Russia
You have been ambassador to Germany for a long time and you probably are aware of the harsh criticism of Ukrainians regarding Mrs. Merkel. Tell us, is it correct to say that the position of Mrs. Merkel has changed lately? This, despite the successes of the Ukrainian army. What happened?
– Yes, her position has changes. But when it comes to Merkel, I will say two important things. Mrs. Merkel, unlike many Germans who are accustomed to peaceful existence, has experienced the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union, and, by the way, many do not know that she studied Russian in Donetsk and that she went down in a mine. She knows Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk very well.
Merkel’s thesis is very simple: let us advance with any measures or sanction one step at a time, but together, instead of having someone advance 10 steps. Otherwise, attempts will be made to break up the European Union. And this time, even though no one believed it, not even in Russia, she succeeded in maintaining her position and not breaking up the EU.
She is not indifferent to Ukraine. She understands that the Ukrainian issue is defining the relationship between the EU and Russia and, of course, between Russia and the US.
For example, I don’t agree with the argument of Zbigniew Brzezinski, for whom I have a great deal of respect, who wrote that the issue of Ukraine can only be resolved through a compromise between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU. I believe that we need a real solution and a compromise between the US and Russia. You may not believe me, you may consider what I say somewhat dramatic, but now in light of Ukraine, it is possible to see the future security model for the world. This is absolutely serious.
And where did Mrs. Merkel get the idea to include Viktor Medvedchuk in the contact group? I heard that Mrs. Merkel was in direct phone contact with Medvedchuk, and that it was through him that information was being transmitted to Vladimir Putin.
– This is actually a very interesting question even for me. As far as I understand, this issue came up during her conversations with Putin. It consisted in the idea that Medvedchuk would be a certain intermediary with those who controlled or seized the situation at that time.
Therefore, it was actually Putin who proposed Medvedchuk as negotiator?
– Well of course. You think that Merkel understands the Ukrainian situation perfectly and can say to Putin, “why not include Medvedchuk here”? In my view, the suggestion came from the other side and Merkel accepted it, since she understood perfectly, especially with her political instincts, that an intermediary was required.
If it is confirmed that the separatists were involved in the disaster, do you think the international community will continue to demand that (Ukraine) negotiate with them?
– First, the international community is not demanding that we negotiate with them. It is demanding contacts with them and a dialogue to achieve a bilateral ceasefire. I am sure the situation has changed.
I remember when we had the unilateral ceasefire, some were demanding that we extend it, saying, “Well another day, well two days, and we will achieve some result.” And this was despite the fact that we had paid for this truce with 30 lives and more than 100 wounded. And they were proposing round tables, saying that after the unification of Germany they had round tables, showed them on TV, and made peace.
Right now everybody has calmed down. They understand perfectly the price of what is happening for them and for Russia.
And will Ukraine demand changes in the contact group, which now includes OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, and the separatists?
– What for? The problem is not in the composition. Even though I do not rule out that, at some point, the format will be, well , changed for the better and expanded with worthy representatives. At some point, when the negotiations touch upon many questions, the security guarantees, it is possible that someone will help Leonid Kuchma as Ukraine’s representative.
This would be one of the government officials?
– Why necessarily a government official? We will perhaps find a good lawyer to help Kuchma. Of course we will. We’re creative.
By the way, instead of Kuchma, it was supposed to be you, but they said that you were on official business. Is that true or did you not want to negotiate at this level?
– Wait a minute. All we need is for the minister of foreign affairs to begin negotiating with the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.” Then they will rejoice, be totally happy and say: “Well if the minister is negotiating with us, then even the Abkhazia example is irrelevant. We have made definite progress.” This will not happen. And Leonid Kuchma is a man I deeply respect as a negotiator. He has fantastic negotiating abilities, believe me! And I am always ready to help Leonid Kuchma.
If Russia is in the negotiating group, then why not representatives from the US and Great Britain as the Ukraine’s guarantors according to the Budapest Memorandum? And what about this memorandum? Everybody has forgotten about it.
– This is a very good question. When this memorandum was being prepared, I was a very modest second secretary. And even then I was telling my leadership that this memorandum really needs to be improved somewhat. In itself, the Budapest memorandum was not a bad idea. But we needed to insist on much more legally binding security guarantees.
But we agreed to a purely political component. Similarly there is yet another example — the Ottawa Memorandum on Chornobyl. If it had been drawn up somewhat differently, it is possible the construction around Chornobyl would have developed somewhat differently. Meanwhile, the Budapest Memorandum is for all of us an example of how and how not to guarantee national security.
Let’s move on to Russia. Your Russian counterpart Mr. Lavrov announced possible precision bombing of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. How serious is this?
– I always take Lavrov’s declarations seriously, but I think this is a political statement now. In recent days, the Russian side has been very consciously and deliberately manipulating the situation in that direction. Thus, naturally, there is a corresponding escalation of the situation using certain pretexts. We will see how this develops.
How should we treat the constant declarations, including from officials in Ukraine, regarding Russia’s preparation for a full-scale invasion? Is this a realistic scenario or just fear mongering?
– First of all, unfortunately, only the Russian Federation has the answer. Second, the idea of a possible humanitarian intervention by Russia is constantly appearing in the information space. Naturally, you won’t hear this literally from Lavrov. But in the Russian system, certain ideas are not expressed by Lavrov or other official representatives.
Therefore, different ideas can be heard. But such an intervention would not simply change the dimensions of what is happening. On the global level, it would completely change the perception of security and the security situation. It would lead to a completely different development of relations among the key countries, the key alliances.
Such an attack would be treacherous. But put yourself in the position of Russia’s president. Would you make that kind of decision today regarding invasion of our territory?
I have a different question. What would stop me, Putin? Tell me what would prevent me?
– I think if I were Putin, the possibility that the response in Russia could be ambiguous would stop me. Second, the key rules and international law would still stop me. Russia has already violated everything possible, but certain principles still exist.
And the third point is still the reaction of the international community. And this reaction may be quite different. This kind of invasion would lead to steps that many in the European Union and the US did not even want to, or were afraid to, discuss a month ago.
Are we talking about a military response?
– Any kind of response that would help stabilize the situation.
Petro Poroshenko repeatedly alluded to the signing of some new security guarantee. What is being discussed, who would be the guarantor countries?
– Today the idea exists of so-called cross-guarantees of security, when several key partners provide security guarantees to Ukraine. Unlike the Budapest memorandum, in case of violation of an agreement with cross-guarantees, the signers face certain obligations in respect to one another.
But I think that today there is no single model. In the future we will see the interaction of several security models, both in military security and in other areas. The modern world is very interconnected. We have to define carefully the mechanisms that would allow for the links to be broken for someone violating these rules.
Therefore, this means the automatic imposition of sanctions on the offender?
– Actually, yes. These would be automatic sanctions set off by certain triggers. The idea is based on the fact that today you cannot exist outside of financial and energy networks. All (countries) seek to maximize the possibility of positive relationships. If someone violates the rules, these relations automatically or semi-automatically are supposed to disappear. This is very complicated, but it is possible to move in that direction.
And in view of current developments, is there a need to sign agreements that would guarantee the military defense of Ukraine and not just economic sanctions for violators?
– When we speak about the so-called substantial security, the question always arises what aggression and what attack. I think that our main guarantee is the formation of an appropriate security and defense space.
If we can inflict damage on any aggressor — and not only Russia — that goes beyond a certain critical cost, we will always find those willing to ensure our safety. Otherwise, there will always be voices asking: “Why would we guarantee safety and help them if there is no one to help?”In this sense, the EU could become a guarantor of our safety: first through the association agreement, then in other areas.
Speaking of the position of Mrs. Merkel and sanctions. She asked France to abstain from selling the Mistrals to Russia. Is Ukraine doing anything in this regard?
– For us it is critical for the Mistrals not to be transferred to Russia, and we are working on this. This is a question the president is raising constantly with President Hollande, and I have discussed this many times with the Foreign Minister of France.
I understand the French to some extent, since the issue is not just politics and a lot of money for the French economy, which is experiencing difficult times. In fact, it has to do with the fate of French industry in the military-technical sector.
But we have our own arguments. We say you are violating your political obligations regarding the sale of arms. After all, you are preparing to sell the Mistrals to a country that has committed an act of aggression. And the main thing — even if the Mistrals are transferred to Russia — the French must work hard to ensure that the ships will be used somewhere in the Pacific and not where they can be used for their intended purpose. That is, not in the Black or Baltic seas.
The French tell us that they have already signed all the contracts. And even, if all the sanctions are implemented, they would not be applied retroactively. We are working on this. We won’t leave this issue as it now stands.
The EU Association Agreement
Let’s talk about the Association Agreement. It has not yet been ratified by Ukraine. And many people are wondering if this is due to the fact that consultations with Russia are being planned in September for their comments on the agreement. Can we say that the delayed ratification is specifically tied to Russia’s position?
– The absolutely honest and direct answer: it is tied, but not directly. There are three factors that will influence the ratification of the agreement.
First, it is based on the fact that the European Union has provided a unique regime for us, whereby we have no duties now when entering the EU market, and European goods are subject to duties when they cross the Ukrainian border. This is beneficial for us. If we ratify, we begin the provision for zero duties in exports and imports.
The second factor is that we need to ensure reforms with the association agreement. It requires either a national plan, which is approved by decree, or, as the president proposes, a national program that is approved by law. The preparation of these documents requires time.
The third factor is, yes, the trilateral consultations. And this is not consultations with the Russians. We have certain potential risks associated with the administration of customs and standards. And either we need to demonstrate, together with the European commission, that they are complete rubbish, or we have to agree that we have technical difficulties with their implementation. We must not give Russia an excuse to introduce any protective measures, as has happened now with Moldova.
Given all this, I absolutely do not understand why the agreement needs to be ratified tomorrow rather than in a month. We absolutely must not rush! I’m telling you we will not have any problems with ratification. Our real challenge is implementing the agreement and adopting the legislation.
You see, we have internal plans, ideas — there is a holistic view of the national program. But tell me who will implement it? Let’s say there are people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ready to take this on. But do we have such people in certain ministries, in the industry associations, on the regional level? For me that is the big question. And this requires enourmous work for the future.
The issue of ambassadors. In many countries the ambassadors have been recalled or are still performing duties. When will they be assigned?
– In the very near future. The delay is due to two reasons. First, we had to prepare the matrix and have it approved by the president. This proved to be difficult because the president has very high requirements for the ambassadors. Second, I want to introduce “hub” ambassadors so that we can see the situation not only in one country but in entire regions.
At one time my good friend, the former prime minister of Australia, said in one sentence how he viewed Australia’s position in the world : an average power with global ambitions, he said. And this is how I view Ukraine: an important European country with certain global ambitions.
I believe it is critical for us to understand how we perceive and are perceived politically and economically by the key Asian markets. I’m not talking about the classic partners, the EU and US, but about China, Southeast Asia, Latin America… For example, if we’re honest, we have overlooked Africa, which today is the fastest growing continent. How, having few resources, can we establish Ukrainian interests there? I also have a few ideas.
During the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych you were ambassador to Germany and were actively involved in the preparation of the Association Agreement. You can now answer two simple questions: did Viktor Yanukovych really want to sign the agreement or was this fiction? And what caused him to change course abruptly in November 2013?
– I attended several meeting regarding the European Union where Yanukovych was present. I had the impression that he regarded the agreement as clearly possible and was preparing to sign it. Moreover, I believe that Russia never fully understood what was going on — politically, economically, mentally, civilizationally, and so on.
But I don’t know what happened with Viktor Yanukovych. I remember how the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Leonid Kozhara the day before the decision was made not to sign the agreement said that we would never postpone signing the agreement. And I really think his position was changed very abruptly.
This was tied to the meeting with Vladimir Putin?
– Yes, I think it was clearly tied to this meeting.
What exactly could Putin have said to Yanukovych to change his vision for Ukraine?
– I think only two people know that: Putin and Yanukovych. I understand perfectly that the price of the agreement was very significant for Russia. Even though, to be honest, Russia would have substantial benefits from the implementation of the agreement. Moreover, both Russia and Russian companies based in Ukraine would benefit.
Therefore, in the end, Russia clearly wins economically. But the issue here is politics. And what arguments were used by Putin, I do not know. I have certain guesses, but it would be better to ask them directly.
Well the choice is limited — either money or threats.
– No. In fact, when a person is a very important politician, these things do not work on such a simple level. I can say this: when the stakes are very high, then the discussion has very high stakes as well.[hr] By Mustafa Nayem, Ukrainska Pravda, July 20, 2014
Translated by Anna Mostovych