Klimkin, 47, said the clear aim of the renewed Russian-backed military offensive in the eastern Donbas region “is to definitely disrupt the Minsk agreement” and try to force renegotiation of the September blueprint for ending the war.

But he doesn’t think the Russian strategy will work. He said that Ukraine and the West are committed to the comprehensive Minsk accords, which call for withdrawal of Russian troops, an end to the Kremlin’s support for their proxies, secure borders, a cease-fire and monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“For us, and I hope for everyone, the implementation of Minsk in its entirety…is not an a la carte approach,” the foreign minister said.

The Minsk agreements have been routinely violated by Russia, which signed the deal, and their proxies in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, pushing the death toll to nearly 5,000 people killed since the fighting started in April.


Soon after the New Year’s holidays, the separatists began a renewed offensive to gain control of the destroyed Donetsk airport and other areas. In what the West and Ukraine describe as an act of terror, separatists fired a Grad missile in the Donetsk Oblast city of Volnovakha, killing 12 civilians — mostly retirees — in a mini-bus.

EU Foreign Affairs Council meets on Jan. 19

The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council is meeting on Jan. 19 in Brussels to discuss the EU’s policy on Russia. Klimkin sees growing EU unity because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and is particularly heartened that there will be no acceptance of Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea in March. 

“The EU never had any sort of comprehensive strategy towards Russia, was never able to speak with one voice,” he said. “Now the EU speak with one voice.”

Because of the sensitivities of the issue, Klimkin would not name what European countries are supplying weapons to Ukraine or talk about what they are supplying.


But Klimkin noted the EU’s blessing for individual member states to provide Ukraine with military assistance. He says EU countries now understand that “such assistance is not about the facilitating of more military action, but rather creating a critical capability for Ukrainian military forces to sustain and counter the aggression.”

Klimkin said that while Ukraine’s defensive capabilities are getting better, through its own purchases and gifts from other nations, the nation clearly needs more.

“Of course I would like to get more in the sense of military technical cooperation. But it’s getting better and better, and now we are able to critically strengthen the capability of our military forces,” he said. “It’s a sort of new situation for us. Ukraine in recent years, mainly sold military equipment on the world market. Now we have to buy what is needed for our military forces.”

Possible Berlin meeting on Jan. 21

Klimkin’s next chance at diplomacy could come in Berlin on Jan. 21 with a meeting tentatively scheduled among him, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and their German and French counterparts, Frank Walter-Steinmeier and Laurent Fabius. But an earlier meeting of the four parties ended without success on Jan. 12, and Klimkin said there may be no reason to meet again on Jan. 21 unless there is identifiable progress to be made. “Why do we have to meet if we have nothing to deliver?” he asked.


When asked about the prospects of a top-level meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, this month, Klimkin also downplayed the possibility unless concrete progress can be made. “The key point is the result, not the timeline,” he said.

Yet another gathering about Ukraine is scheduled for Jan. 21, when the United Nations Security Council convenes in a meeting called by Lithuania. However, the UN has proved unable to play any meaningful role because of Russia’s veto on Security Council actions.  

Klimkin described a businesslike but tough relationship with Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, with direct talks over issues such as the Russian convoys in eastern Ukraine and ensuring access of Ukrainian consulate officials to Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who is imprisoned in Russia. 

But that’s not the same as saying that the relationship with Lavrov is productive because, in Klimkin’s view, Russia keeps ignoring facts and common sense.


“He defends the official Russian line,” Klimkin said. “The Russian side fully refuses to recognize the obvious things and facts like the presence of Russian regular troops on Ukrainian territory, the whole traffic of mercenaries, money and heavy weaponry.”

He also said that Russians refuse to close the Ukraine-Russian border on the flawed rationale that “the people in Donetsk and Luhansk would feel surrounded.” He said the Russians are pressing Ukraine to talk directly with the terrorists in eastern Ukraine, which is not going to happen except through the trilateral contact group involving representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE.

The Russians, in talks, highlight “differences and problems” while Ukraine is trying to “put forward the idea of unity and consistency.” Fundamentally, Klimkin said, the Russians don’t embrace European values the same way that Ukraine is trying to do. “For us, diversity is a strong point,” he said. “For Russians it is a weak point.”

He said “we’ve been fighting here not only for Ukraine and Europe but for common values… In the world where nobody can simply decide that one country or any other force can break the rules.”     

While media reports suggest a rift between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister over Russia — with Merkel reportedly wanting to keep a harder line — Klimkin thinks that Germany policy is united in opposing Russia’s violations of international law in seizing Crimea and sponsoring the war in Ukraine.


“The Germans believe this world is about rules,” he said.

And so does Ukraine, he said, when asked about whether Ukraine would repay its $3 billion Eurobond purchased by Russia. “It’s not about credit to Ukraine. It’s a Eurobond loan. There are rules for this loan and we need to act according of these rules.”

Davos’ World Economic Forum on Jan. 21 

Klimkin is in favor of billionaire philanthropist George Soros’ strategy for tapping at least $50 billion from various European funds to help Ukraine finance much-needed reforms and avoid financial default, rather than the much smaller sums that the West is considering.

“It’s a good idea,” Klimkin said. “We need to find a way to organize  a real effort behind ths idea. The Soros vision is very important to us.” To achieve reforms in the economic and political sectors, “we need a real push and real assistance,” he said.

Klimkin was an hour late for the Kyiv Post interview because a meeting at the Presidential Administration ran long, partly over the nation’s preparations for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, from Jan. 21-24.


Davos, where political and business leaders gather every year, is an opportunity for Ukraine plans to present its reform agenda and financial needs to foreign donors.  

“We have a very clear vision for reforms in Ukraine,” he said. “Now we have to implement this European mentality here in Ukraine.”

Russian roots and working under Yanukovych

Born in Kursk and educated in Moscow, Klimkin now finds himself at the diplomatic front line to end his native country’s war against Ukraine. Klimkin, 47, studied physics in Moscow Physics and Technical Institute, and then worked at the Paton Electric Welding Institute in Kyiv before switching to a diplomatic career in 1993.

He was chief negotiator in preparing the landmark political and economic association agreement between Ukraine and the EU, signed only after Petro Poroshenko replaced Viktor Yanukovych as president last year.

Klimkin described working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as particularly difficult under Yanukovych, whose abandonment of European integration sparked the revolution that ousted him from power on Feb. 22, only four years after his election.

“It was a quite difficult time to work, I have to confess, in many senses, not just on European policy,” he said. He stayed in the ministry because “it was the way to drive forward the European agenda.”

He said that another obstacle was that “the Russians simply did not believe (the association agreement with the EU) could come true. They didn’t believe in our ability to negotiate a good agreement and didn’t believe in our commitment to implement a good agreement.”

He spent only the first two months of his life in his birthplace of Kursk, Russia. His father was a military pilot.

Klimkin said he last visited Moscow a couple of years ago for consultations about Ukrainian European integration a couple of years ago. He said the city has changed.

“It was a completely different Moscow than I knew in my time as a student. Anyone who now travels between Moscow and Kyiv has a very clear understanding about different mentality,  different perception of freedom in Ukraine and Russia. It’s visible. It’s everywhere.”

But he says he does not feel conflicting loyalties.

“I believe the intrinsic drive here in Ukraine for freedom is indeed crucially important,” Klimkin said. “I feel free as a Ukrainian here in Ukraine and because of that I am fully convinced that there should be no kind of compromises about Ukraine as a single country, about Ukraine as a European country and about Ukraine as a free country.”

Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner can be reached at [email protected] and Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at [email protected].

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