Striking Optimistic Note for Ukraine’s Future, Foreign Minister Calls for More Support from International Community

The Hague Institute was the venue for a robust defense of Ukraine’s internal reforms and renewed calls for international assistance from its Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, who spoke to an audience of policy-makers, diplomats and academics as part of the Institute’s Distinguished Speaker Series on 17 April.

Reiterating concerns expressed in a meeting with his Russian, French and German counterparts in Berlin earlier this week, the minister reiterated his government’s commitment to the Minsk process, but underlined that too little progress is being made in diplomatic negotiations. At the heart of efforts to end the violence – alongside stabilization, humanitarian access and improved socio-economic ties – is a political process, emphasized Mr. Klimkin. It centers on free and fair elections in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

International actors have a key role in supervising these elections (which will be implemented by the OSCE) and ensuring longer-term stabilization. But the OSCE alone was not capable of providing the support Ukraine needs to guarantee sustainable peace, Mr. Klimkin said. Although the OSCE benefits from its broad membership (including Russia), it faces a number of limitations in its ongoing monitoring mission, including an inability to operate at night (when most violations of the ceasefire occur) and a deficit of resources and technical capacity. The Foreign Minister called instead for a multi-dimensional peacekeeping operation, suggesting a hybrid EU-UN mission would be his favored option. The EU alone, Mr. Klimkin argued, would not be able to go far enough; a successful mission would require the legitimacy and scope offered by the UN Security Council which in turn, he acknowledged, could only act if Russia agreed to a mutual goal of stabilization in the region.

In a wide-ranging and candid discussion with the audience, Foreign Minister Klimkin reflected further on long-term Russian aims, European support for Ukraine, and ongoing reforms being undertaken by his government. He acknowledged that many European politicians have tacitly accepted the Russian position on Crimea, that Russia’s annexation of the peninsular is a fait accompli not worth revisiting given the current stakes in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Klimkin forcefully rejected this posture, stressing that Crimea would rejoin Ukraine ‘sooner than many think’ and questioning how members of the G8 could countenance re-admitting Russia when the country had violated international law.

Russia, the Foreign Minister said, was part of European civilization. He called for Moscow to rejoin the international community, which he deemed to be in the country’s own economic interests. The key problem for Russia, Mr. Klimkin ventured, was not just sanctions, but rather the attitude underpinning them: a lack of belief in Russia as trustworthy actor in international politics. This, he continued, would have wider political and economic repercussions for Russia.

The reforms currently underway within Ukraine were ambitious, Mr. Klimkin agreed; decades worth of work was being attempted in a very short timeframe. But progress was being rapidly recorded, the minister stated. The government has given particular focus to the justice system, on the understanding that courts and police must protect the weak. For too long, Ukrainian citizens lacked faith that this was possible; this is changing fast, Mr. Klimkin reported. Just as corruption will not be tolerated so, Mr. Klimkin told his Dutch audience, amnesty for militants involved in mass atrocities in unthinkable. For this reason, he said, it is politically, legally and morally imperative to achieve accountability for the victims of the attack on Flight MH17, and right that the Dutch authorities lead the investigation.

Reform requires sacrifice, Mr. Klimkin declared. Responding to a question about the measures the IMF requires the Ukrainian government to take, he acknowledged that many people would react negatively to the discovery that their energy bills will triple. Nevertheless, such reforms were the only way to root out ‘villains’ in the energy sector, the Foreign Minister said.

Looking to the future, and in tandem with his optimism with regard to Crimea and the prospects of UN action to stabilize eastern Ukraine, the Foreign Minister reaffirmed the imperative of Ukrainian sovereignty. To those wondering if Ukraine was condemned to be the battleground in a new Cold War, Mr. Klimkin argued unflinchingly that his country should be considered an actor on the international stage with the ability and capability to make its own choices.

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