Ukrainian foreign minister: ‘Business as usual’ with Russia is a bad joke

Pavlo Klimkin [Wikimedia]

Those who don’t understand that Ukraine is a test case for the European Union, don’t realise that the EU is already under attack by Russia, Pavlo Klimkin, the country’s foreign minister, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Pavlo Klimkin is a career diplomat. He has played a central role in negotiating the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.

What is your assessment of the implementation of the Minsk agreement? Do you think Ukraine is doing its part of the agreement as well? Is there a realistic chance that the agreement be implemented in full by the end of the year?

We’ve been delivering on the agreement. At the same time, Donetsk and Lugansk regularly deny the SMM mission [OSCE Special monitoring mission] access to their positions, hide weapons, continue shelling on our forces. OSCE SMM reports can prove that.

We stay committed to the Minsk agreement, because this is the only possible way to deescalation. The f theirst thing that Ukraine wants to achieve in Donbass region is peace. Real deescalation, holding free and fair local elections according to the Ukrainian law, should be in the interest of everyone who is striving for peace.

Of course, regaining control is critical, but as important is peace, and law and order returning to Donbass. This is the main goal of the Minsk agreement. Ukrainian citizens living on Ukrainian soil can and should enjoy the Ukrainian legal field and return to their normal life without intervention from Russia.

What do you think the EU should do to assist Ukraine? Do you think it will be possible to send a large CSDP mission to enforce the Minsk agreements, or at least to closely monitor their implementation? And how large do you think it should be?

We need to bring stabilization and a normal life to the people of Donbass. We have in mind free and fair elections and implementation of the special status law, including disarmament, withdrawal of illegal armed units, creating people’s militia, joint patrols, everything that is going to bring back the normal life to the people. And we need someone to be responsible for that. Today we just have a monitoring mission, which is exclusively responsible for monitoring and verification. Now we need a partner for this mission, which would be in fact a Minsk support and stabilization mission. Such a mission would bring more stability to Donbass. And everyone who is against that, knowing that the EU is a key promoter of human rights, is actually against supporting human rights and peace.

But the EU should also have the courage to send such a mission, to show that it is able to ensure peace and stability in Donbass, and that it is not afraid of Russia.

In a worst case scenario, sending lethal weapons to Ukraine may become an option. If the weapons come from the USA, this would only prompt Russia to send even more troops and weaponry, and probably to stop pretending it is not involved. Should the world fear a full-fledged war?

It is not our intention to resolve the situation in Donbass by military means. Getting defensive weapons is to acquire critical defensive capability to be able to counter offensive actions. You should feel that your question is illogical, because why should Russia (if it follows the sensible and reasonable pattern of mentality) send more weapons if we do not use any kind of offensive weapons, if we are not going to wage offensive operations but ask for the defensive weapons only: the weapons to defend ourselves, not to attack.

Do you think Ukraine could join NATO? Wouldn’t it be seen as a provocation for Russia? What kind of relationship ford your country envisage with NATO in the shorter term?

The choice of how to defend our country is ours. It will be a responsible and wise choice, because the people under aggression, losing their relatives and loved ones will make responsible choices. We need to bring up the standards for our defense and security sector to the level of NATO, because it’s about our security. But the issue of joining NATO is the point of us making our sovereign decision that NATO is the best way to guarantee our security, and NATO consensually making its decision that expanding to Ukraine would be the best option for the Alliance. And, of course, we need to implement much needed reforms in order to start this dialogue.

Do you have a message for those countries in the EU who say they had enough of the sanctions against Russia, for the leaders who invite Vladimir Putin or who pay visits to the Kremlin, and who want to return to “business as usual”?

Unfortunately, the issue of commitment to European values and principles has been becoming a bit banal. And for those ones who don’t fully understand that Ukraine is a test-case for everyone in the European Union, for her or his personal ability to feel and act like a European, I should say that Russia has been waging a hybrid war against Ukraine with tanks, heavy weaponry, mercenaries. But the European Union is also under attack by tremendous level of furious and vicious propaganda, by supporting far-left and far-right parties and squeezing the people who are committed to basic and generic European values, and of course, trying to fragment the whole European Union. It could also be called “hybrid war”. So, defending Ukraine means defending European values and the European Union itself.

Don’t fool yourself; business as usual is a joke, unfortunately a bad joke. Engagement with Russia is and will be there. But now hopefully everyone understands that the EU needs clear rules of such engagement and needs to implement these rules anytime and by every country, showing bold, consistent and comprehensive policy, in fact showing its character and solidarity. And recognizing that Ukraine is existential for the European Union and has European perspective is for me a clear sign of showing such character. It’s a high time.

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