Foreign Minister of Ukraine Discusses Current Challenges Facing Ukraine at LISD-Sponsored Lecture

In conjunction with ongoing work focusing on the unfolding situation in Ukraine, the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University sponsored a visit, private discussion, and public lecture at Princeton University on Friday, September 19, 2014, by HE Pavlo Klimkin, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. Minister Klimkin fielded questions from students, faculty, and community members during a discussion session at Prospect House, before delivering a public lecture with additional Q&A in Dodds Auditorium.

Minister Klimkin began his public lecture by framing three key questions regarding the current situation in Ukraine. First, he asked, what really has happened in Ukraine over the last ten months? It seems as if a different picture emerges from Ukraine every hour, why is this the case? What are the facts? Minister Klimkin elaborated on a brief history of the European Association Agreement, the events leading up to the protests in Maidan, the fall of President Yanukovych, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the escalation of tensions and violence in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. He described the Association Agreement as a “promise…a way to open the way to Europe and the EU,” and that this promise, the dream of Ukrainians, appeared broken, catalyzing the protests and unrest. Describing the destabilization in the East, he explained, “We are being punished for our European choice, for our commitment to European values, for our readiness to sign the contract, and for our break with the Soviet past.” He described the facts and on-the-ground developments as proof of a transformation in the Ukrainian mentality towards the goal of a united, democratic, and European Ukraine.

The second key question addressed how and why the crisis in Ukraine in fact touches to the core of American interests. Minister Klimkin described Ukraine not so much as “America’s problem, but as America’s defining moment,” in which it must define the role it wishes to play in the world. He stressed the issue of principle: if some countries are allowed to break international law and standards, why should others feel secure? If sovereignty is not defended, how can we remain confident in our current system? He warned, however, that we are entering geopolitically uncharted waters. It is increasingly difficult for a 28-member European Union to “speak with one voice,” and only with American cooperation and leadership can the necessary pressure be exerted to deescalate the crisis.

Third, he asked, why is this unlike any other crisis over the past decade? Why can the West not afford to sit on the sidelines? Minister Klimkin addressed this key issue by first stressing the divergence between Ukraine and other immediate crises such as ISIS, Iraq, or Afghanistan. “This is not about building democracy,” he explained, “we are a democratic government. This is about our history, our vocation, our new European mentality.” He warned that if Ukraine is not allowed to fight for freedom, democracy, and independence, than the entire leadership of the democratic world could be thrown into question, and further frozen conflicts like Transnistria or South Ossetia would be the unfortunate result.

Highlighting his government’s goals of Western solidarity and partnership, Minister Klimkin concluded his speech by again stressing the need for political cohesion, governmental reform, and “one voice” from the trans-Atlantic world. He sketched a way forward for Ukraine, referencing President Poroshenko’s speech in front of a joint session of Congress on September 18 at which he also highlighted the importance of partnership and solidarity in support of freedom and democracy. Thanking the audience for its interest in Ukraine’s current situation, Minister Klimkin then responded several audience questions, discussing diverse but relevant issues such as the role of Gazprom and gas supply to and via Ukraine, energy diversification, the question of Russian “kinship,” new forms of covert and cyber warfare, and the role of NATO and neutrality. He ultimately concluded his presentation with an appeal for further interest, solidarity, and compassion towards Ukraine during ongoing challenging developments.

The Foreign Minister's visit was co-sponsored by the Program in Contemporary European Politics and Society, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), the Program on Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Pavlo Klimkin was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine on 19 June, 2014, 3 months before his visit. He graduated in 1991 from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Department of Aerophysics and Space Research, with a Master’s degree in Physics and Mathematics. He then worked at the National Academy of Science of Ukraine, before joining the Foreign Ministry in 1993. From 1993 to 1997 he served in the Directorate-General for Arms Control and Disarmament followed by a posting at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Federal Republic of Germany focusing on political, scientific and technical issues. From 2000 to 2004 he served as head of division for economic and sectoral cooperation with the EU in the Foreign Ministry’s Department for European integration. From 2004 to 2008 his posting was as Minister-Counselor at Ukraine’s London Embassy, before directing Ukraine’s EU Department from 2008 to 2010. He then served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine until 2012, when he was named Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Federal Republic of Germany in Berlin, serving until May 2014.