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19 November, 2019  ▪  Спілкувалася: Alla Lazareva

Pavlo Klimkin: “We are losing respect of the key players”

Тhe Ukrainian Week speaks to former Minister of Foreign Affairs about the reasons for Russia’s pullout from the Geneva Conventions, the recognition of the Holodomor in Germany and the quality of Ukraine’s diplomatic communication with the world

Russia has announced its intention to pull out from an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions on the protection of victims of war crimes. What do you think its motivation is? 

— Russia has violated the basic principles of international law before. Geneva Conventions reflect the rationale of international humanitarian law. The protocol is related to the protection of civilians. In my view, one of the key factors for the revocation is reluctance to be held accountable for the crimes committed — in Ukraine, in Syria. And Russian units may have committed crimes in other countries as well. But responsibility will catch up with them sooner or later. Another thing that has to be taken into account — Ukrainian media miss this point for some reason — is that this means, in my opinion, that Russia is preparing new military operations. They are perfectly aware of the fact that what is committed during such operations falls under the rationale of international humanitarian law. Geneva Conventions are the basis of humanism for all of us. This is not about states and interaction; this is about people, protection and humanism.


You served as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Germany. The German MFA does not recommend recognizing the Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian nation today. Do you see this is a standalone phenomenon or an element in the chain of the Russian-German friendship?

— I believe that we should do systemic work, not whine. Firstly, we see that there are different opinions in the Bundestag. We have had interesting discussions there. Of course, some politicians take Russia’s position into account, and we should recognize that. But the debate goes on — in public institutions, among other places. We should communicate a very emotional history of our sufferings through personal stories to the Germans. We should organize exhibitions, speak on TV and radio, and show that this means something to us. Why did the Stalin regime commit genocide? Why was it a goal for Stalin? Unless we explain this, the only thing that will take place will be a political discussion. And you will always have pressure from pro-Russian politicians, a share of caution in a political discussion. Therefore, we should conduct this emotional campaign very consistently and aggressively in a positive sense. It will surely deliver results. But these are not things that deliver results today or tomorrow morning. They take patience. Let me give you an example. How long did we campaign in the US? Quite a few states recognized the Holodomor just a year or two years ago, but that was the result of many years of work. If we think that we can get everything easily and we shouldn’t work to get it, it won’t happen, I assure you. Let’s unite! It’s not just the state that should be doing this following a plan of several points. This is a task for our political nation, our civil society, all of us. Let’s join efforts. I don’t know when we will have the result — in a year or in three years. But it will come. Some cases are special. You have the United Kingdom with some insecurity around what happened in Ireland. You have historical background there. When it comes to Germany, we should just work and show what we feel and how it happened.

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Overall, how good is Ukraine at communication in other important countries? How much do people understand and hear us there? What do we lack for successful communication with foreign partners?

— We lack a lot — not just when it comes to the Holodomor, but to communications generally. Let me give you an example. When the impeachment process started in the US, it was up to the Congress to decide whether it was formal or not. What mattered for us? It was an extraordinary challenge and a megaproblem for Ukraine — both now, and in the future. Many average Americans see Ukraine as a source of all problems, a source of shadow politics and economy. Many politicians see us as a hot potato: you’d like to touch it, but it can burn. I understand the silence and the lack of a message from Ukraine in the first days. The situation was very complex indeed; it had to be understood well in order to stay neutral. But now, if we simply say that nothing happened and everything is great against the backdrop of this entire negative wave, including the latest testimony from William Taylor, it will work against us. Therefore, we need political and communication strategies, a crisis team, people to implement the strategy, we need to engage journalists… This is about Ukraine’s future. The same should be done in Europe. But here, accents are different. We should show what is going on in the occupied Donbas and Crimea. There should always be a system in communications — both for the state and for society. Another thing is that we have to understand who we want to reach and what message we want to communicate because different countries have different mentality. What we say in Beijing and what we say in Paris may seem the same, but it’s said in different words, with different examples and different ideas. There is no systematic communication now. And it really hurts us. But for now, and for the future. The longer we lack it, the more confidently the Kremlin acts. The longer we say nothing, the more they become the ones informing the world about Ukraine. It’s like physics. Any vacuum will surely be filled with something. In case of a media vacuum, we should remember that bad news sell better. And it’s easy and cheap to create yet another negative wave in the context of negative news about Ukraine. So, nothing will work without systematic efforts, unfortunately. The state should act as a headliner and create a proactive position.  


Let’s expand on this: Ukraine began to gain subjectivity in international relations in the past five years. Is it right to say that it is gradually losing it? If so, what should be done to return to the upward trend? 

— We gained respect in the recent years. There was no talking about us without us. And we always had a proactive position in negotiations. We offered ideas and tried to stay in contact with our partners. I speak without exaggeration when I say that not a single day passed without such contacts. When we lose the dynamics, the rule of the vacuum will work against us. There is a real threat now that Russia will exert further pressure, as it understands the current dynamics around the election campaign in the US, the change of the European Commission, and the possible challenges around local elections in France. It will try to reach a deal with the administrations of Trump and Macron. The point is not that Macron started treating Putin better. For him, this must be some philosophical, political realization that it will be more difficult to solve some fundamental issues for France in security — around the Middle East, for example, — without interaction with Russia. Plus, he has dynamics at home. So, of course, we will come out as losers from this game unless we try to take over the initiative. And I will not say that we are losing subjectivity. But we are losing the respect of the key players. In principle, you can succeed in negotiations only when you are respected and taken into account. When it’s impossible to cast you out of the process, from talks, from the dynamics. But you start losing immediately if you say ok and start limiting yourself to a certain timeframe or some other things. I really hope the situation will normalize. What is Putin doing? He is constantly bullying and trying to dictate his conditions, including for the Normandy Format meeting, in order to show off and avail of the situation because he thinks that time works against him. If we want to take over the initiative, we should say that time works for us. Both time, and sense. For now, the Russian line aimed at polarizing society, fueling emotions, preventing us from building a common agenda and consensus on priorities delivers results, unfortunately. 


The Normandy Format talks are postponed. Is this good or bad for us?

— Putin delays the Normandy Format in order to pressurize Ukraine with his demands stemming from his rationale. Because the Steinmeier formula that jumps out of context and makes no sense here. It’s neither positive, nor negative — it only really fits the Russian plans to make the occupied Donbas the basis for federalization. The same thing with the withdrawal of troops: it’s not the problem in itself; the problem is when and under what conditions it is done, how further military and diversion activities can be ruled out, and why it’s being done as the key question. Of course, Putin is delaying the summit as a way to wait out for whom and how will implement the part of the promises from the American side. There are some nuances on Europe, as well. Therefore, he is waiting out and raising stakes — not just for the Donbas. He does so on gas too, it’s part of the overall pressure.

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Can Ukraine pull out of this formula or not? 

— Ukraine has not accepted it yet. Again, this is nothing without a plan and guarantees of implementation. As they say, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.



Pavlo Klimkin is a Ukrainian politician, diplomat and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2014 to 2019. Born in 1967 in Kursk, Russia, he graduated from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technologyin 1991 majoring in Applied Mathematics and Physics at the Aerophysics and Space Research Department. He worked at the Department for Military Control and Disarmament and headed economic and sectoral cooperation with the EU section of the European Integration Department and the EU Department at Ukraine’s MFA. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2010 and Ambassador of Ukraine to Germany from 2012.


Translated by Anna Korbut 

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