FRED KEMPE: Good afternoon and welcome. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. And we’re honored to have with us today the foreign minister of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin, at a – it almost seems such a great understatement to say at a critical time for his country – an existential time and a crucial time and a historic time for his country and for the international community.
Some people talk about asymmetrical interest, that perhaps the Russians have more interest in Ukraine than does the West, Europe and the United States. The Atlantic Council doesn’t believe that, and I think a lot of other join us in understand that this is about a rules-based system, about Europe whole and free, that the Ukraine issue is one that has global repercussions.
Minister Klimkin is in Washington this week consulting with Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry and congressional leadership, on a stronger trans-Atlantic response to Russian aggression. So thank you, Mr. Minister, for everything you’re doing in your country, and thank you for this very important trip in this time with the Atlantic Council.
I want to welcome everyone joining us here in the room and via our live broadcast and webstream. We have opened our discussion up to social media through Twitter. Please us the hashtag #acukraine. We encourage you to join in.
As I said, the idea of Europe whole and free and at peace is at the core of our mission. The disaster around MH17 has galvanized the world community even more to understand the costs of what’s going on in eastern Ukraine and the continued illegal occupation of Crimea, standing in stark contrast to the very mission of the Atlantic Council.
It is for this reason that we’ve chosen to lean in through our Ukraine in Europe Initiative. We’ve been doing our best to bring attention to the issues that matter in this crisis and to help shape a strategic response and a lasting sustainable outcome, both in the U.S. and capitals around Europe, through smart analysis, high-level briefings, media appearances and programming like this.
Our initiative began with a running start, a hundred day initiative that we’ve launched during the visit of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to Washington in March. Now this effort is being sustained through our Ukraine in Europe Initiative, and you can see more about that on our website, atlanticcouncil.org.
And while some have been slow to recognize what’s at stake in our response to the crisis, recent days have only further exposed Russia’s destabilizing role in eastern Ukraine. Indeed, as the minister speaks, the European Union, the United States and other G-7 partners are announcing stiff new sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy.
We magnify the impact of our work through partnerships that we forged. One such critical partnership on Ukraine is with the Ukrainian World Congress. I’m therefore pleased to hand over to Paul Grod, vice president of the Ukrainian World Congress, to introduce Minister Klimkin; then our vice president of the Atlantic Council, Damon Wilson will moderate the conversation afterwards. He’s a Canadian businessman, a prominent member of the Ukrainian diaspora himself. Ukrainian World Congress represents 20 million – 20 million – (phone rings) – I’m sorry about that. Please, everybody, shut off your – (laughter) – shut off – shut off your cellphones. The – representing 20 million Ukrainians in 47 countries. Paul, it’s an honor to have you with us. (Applause.)
PAUL GROD: Thank you, Fred.
Dear Minister Klimkin, representatives of Congress, of the Senate, of the executive branch, ambassadors, distinguished guests, I am pleased to bring greetings and introduce Minister Pavlo Klimkin on behalf of the Ukrainian World Congress and the Atlantic Council. The Ukrainian World Congress, which represents the interests of 20 million Ukrainians living outside Ukraine in 47 countries around the world, has been working with the Atlantic Council to further their Ukraine in Europe Initiative, which has been providing valuable policy advice to the world’s leading decision-makers. We anticipate concluding a formal cooperation agreement in the very near future. I also want to recognize the tremendous work being done by a key member of the organization of the world congress that represents the Ukrainian-American community, that being the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and their Washington mission head, Mr. Michael Sawkiw.
We are all saddened and rightfully outraged by the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17 by Russian mercenaries and by the loss of almost 300 people. There can be no weakening of our resolve to hold the Putin regime accountable for threatening the peace and security of Eastern Europe and Central Europe.
Russia’s aggressive militarism and expansionism are a threat to more than just Ukraine. They are a threat to Europe, the United States and Canada, to the rule of law and to the values that bind Western nations. We must not stand by idly by the – by the face of this threat.
The choice is Mr. Putin’s. He can take these actions to – he can take actions to recommit Russia to peace, democracy and the rule of law, or he can persist with the politics of intimidation and aggression, in which case the EU, the U.S., Canada and its allies must take further action, more punitive steps to isolate Russia from the rest of the world’s democratic states, the values and principles we cherish and for which so many generations have fought and died for demanded.
We have gathered today to hear firsthand from Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs about the current in Ukraine and the strategic direction of the government of Ukraine.
Minister Pavlo Klimkin is an experienced and highly regarded diplomat. A physicist and mathematician by training, he has over 20 years’ experience in Ukraine’s diplomatic corps. He has served as Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister as well as a number of diplomatic missions around the world, including the United Kingdom and Germany, most recently serving as the ambassador of Ukraine to Germany. Minister Klimkin played a key role in Ukraine’s recent signing of the EU association agreement, having initialed each page of the agreement and perhaps being one of few who have actually read it in its entirety. Minister Klimkin is married to a fellow diplomat, Natalia, and they have two sons. Natalia Klimkin is – holds the post of first secretary at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Netherlands.
Please join me in welcoming Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Pavlo Klimkin. (Applause.)
PAVLO KLIMKIN: It’s indeed a pleasure to speak today at the Atlantic Council. And we have today a real proof of trans-Atlantic partnership and trans-Atlantic solidarity. We are talking about the whole civilized world standing by us, staying behind us. And there is a decision today just made by the European Union about the next wave of sanctions. Of course, we don’t need sanctions for the sake of sanctions. It’s – but it’s about the world we live in. It’s about the world where we have rules, where we have commitments, where we have legally binding commitments and political commitments. And it’s about mechanism, how to get back to the status quo, how to get back to the world where we have a reliable and predictable people bound by commitments and moral grounds.
And because of that, we need solidarity more than ever. We enjoy solidarity here. And I got it from every meeting yesterday and today. We got solidarity in the EU. And it’s a different situation now. I was in charge of EU-Ukraine relations many years, and it was my point: Why we are talking about partnership and can’t proceed to real solidarity and real engagement? And it’s (indeed ?) the case now, unfortunately too late and after a number of tragic events, like shutting down the plane of Malaysian Airlines by Russian-backed terrorists.
So what is going on really now? And I believe – it is my point that the world faces now the worst security situation since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It’s indeed about our understanding the situation. It’s of course about reacting to the situation and about de-escalation, but about understanding the implications for the future. We are still under attack in Ukraine, today more than ever. The terrorist forces still occupy considerable part of Donetsk and Luhansk region, although we have been advancing quite considerably. And it’s about a number of Russian citizens, mainly Russian citizens who have links to Russian special forces, who lead the terrorists. It’s not about the people who represent Donbass, who represent Donetsk and Luhansk.
And it’s about propaganda machine. They fool a part of local population into believing that splitting with Ukraine would mean the clean slate in life. The propaganda is working around the clock. They try to buy some directly, building up criminal gangs, and seduce others. They stir hate to Ukraine, intimidate rurals who refuse to obey. They have everything. They have the most modern fire guns and MANPADs. And now they can rely on more sophisticated system that can shoot down international airplanes. And you can imagine, there is probably still a possibility to buy Kalashnikov rifle on the black market. But how can you buy the most sophisticated anti-air missile system? How can you get there? And how can you teach the terrorists to operate one of the most sophisticated anti-air missile complex?
But Russian armed forces are increasingly also more involved in fighting. In the next – in the recent days we had a number of cases of shelling our troops from the Russian territory, also including in Ukrainian airspace using all kinds of systems. And it’s a kind of – (inaudible) – kind of situation: a just war, undeclared war, at unfair costs, because we find for truth and democracy on our own land, because we are punished for our European choice, because we have a clear idea what we need in Ukraine, and we need – and we have clear commitment to united, democratic and European Ukraine.
And we liberated and signed the Association Agreement not as a sort of symbol which is important for our European integration, but as a framework for future reforms, for European-oriented reforms. And of course it’s difficult to carry out important reforms, but we are ready to pay this price. We are ready to pay this price because at the end of the road it’s about us, it’s about Europe, it’s about Ukrainian with our European history, with our European mentality, and with our – with our location to Europe.
But unfortunately, not everyone seems to be supporting that paradigm and our desire to go to Europe to be united and democratic country, and because of that we still have turmoil in Donetsk and Luhansk. We have this turmoil not because we have any sort of internal conflict here. We are ready to talk to real people, to our people who are probably under Russian propaganda. We are ready to embrace any sort of good idea: wide-ranging decentralization to give more political and economic powers to regions, districts and communities. We are ready to show that it’s in our common interest to provide, to turn back, to return to normal life in Donetsk and Luhansk.
And it all started not just in Donetsk and Luhansk. Unfortunately, the annexation and occupation of the Crimea seems to be forgotten for many, and my message here: Crimea is – was Ukrainian, is Ukrainian, and will be Ukrainian in the future. We have provision for that. We will never stop fighting for Crimea as a part of Ukrainian territory. We have a lot not just Ukrainians, not just Crimean Tatars there who are against this occupation and annexation. We have a lot of Russian-speaking people in the Crimea who do believe it’s an act of aggression.
And the mood actually has been changing. The mood has been changing in Crimea. The mood has been changing in Donetsk and Luhansk. A couple of months ago, under Russian propaganda, the people were extremely cautious about embracing the ideas of Maidan, the ideas of freedom and democracy. And with the wide-ranging decentralization, we are ready to give people more freedom but also more responsibility. Now they started to hate the terrorists the mood in the Crimea has been changing considerably.
A lot – a lot of people now got to understand it’s going nowhere. It’s a dead end. And it’s – of course it’s about our commitment, but it’s also about commitment of the whole international community to Ukraine, to its independence, to inviolability of borders, and it’s also commitment to assist and to help. And we feel this commitment exactly right now.
Unfortunately, it took also such tragic cases like shooting down the Malaysian Airlines airplane. We’ve been working around the clock from the very beginning on how to negotiate full and unrestricted access to the site of crash, on how to carry out fully transparent and effective investigation. We set up a team not from our – not only from our aviation authorities but also the best international team. We invited Dutch representatives, Malaysian representatives, our friends and partners from the U.S., U.K., Switzerland, Germany to join the investigation. More, that we were ready and we performed the idea of taking over the lead for this investigation to our Dutch friends and partners, and it will provide also for fully transparent and open investigation.
And it’s not about barbarians, about the people who came to the crash site for looting. It’s not about the people, about the terrorists who came to the crash site with a lorry, dragging the bodies without any sign of human dignity. And from the very beginning we proclaimed unilateral ceasefire for the whole 40 kilometers radius area at the crash site in order not just to recover all bodies, but also to recover all personal belongings, to give these personal belongings to their loved ones and friends, and to pay our last tribute to the people died in this – in this tragedy. But in all first days of the investigations, the terrorists had been trying to hinder the investigation, although we’ve seen the debris of the airplane hit by shrapnel, and there will be no way how they’re going to wipe out any evidence and any trace of evidence. We will know the truth and we will take the culprits to their responsibility. And it will be our top priority for now and for the nearest future.
We are not for a military solution in Donetsk and Luhansk. It’s not about military offensive. It’s about peace. It’s about clear commitment to peace. It’s about presidential peace plan, which has three main components: de-escalation on the ground, humanitarian assistance but also restoration of infrastructure. What the terrorists have been doing is they have been disrupting any sort of critical infrastructure: water pipelines, electricity networks, gas pipelines. And now we are in charge. We are paying for the restoration. It’s about getting law and order back. It’s about restoring normal supplies there. It’s about returning the normal life to everyone.
But of course it’s about the bilateral ceasefire, because we paid for our commitment to unilateral ceasefire with such human lives, with more than a hundred our military men wounded. The terrorists broke ceasefire more than a hundred times. And now it’s about bilateral ceasefire. It’s about breakthrough on hostages, because the terrorists took hostages: teachers, businessmen, even took kids. And of course it’s about OSCE to be present on the ground from the very first – from the very first moment.
So again, we are fully committed to the peaceful settlement in Donetsk and Luhansk, and there is no way how we let Donetsk and Luhansk to become another frozen conflict. We have enough frozen conflicts in Europe. We need to get rid of all of them and not to create another one. And so we will be consistent and committed and we will fight for Donetsk and Luhansk as part of our territory, as the land where Ukrainians lived and live, and for democracy and rule of law on this territory.
Of course it’s about European location. Of course it’s about systemic reforms in Ukraine, not only economic reform but also rule of law. And we are not ideal country, but we have a long way to go. But our way is the way to European – (inaudible) – is the way to European – to the European Union, is the way to European standards. And we will go this way. It does not matter how difficult it could be and what price we should pay for that, because it’s the choice of all Ukrainians. It’s the national consensus in Ukraine. It’s consensus in Ukrainian society. It’s consensus in Ukrainian politics. And we will nurture this consensus further. We will strengthen it up on the way to European Union to become democratic European and united country.
Of course we need a different security arrangement for Ukraine. We are in completely different situation now. We always said we had lack of trust. Now we have no trust among many actors in Europe. We have to restore this trust, but we have to restore this trust in a way that not – that should also be aimed at restoring the status quo, which should also be aimed at restoring the rule-based world. We should be aimed at sticking to international law and to political commitments. It’s our way. It’s our commitment. And we feel the real solidarity. We feel the real engagement from anyone here, from anyone in the European Union, from different corners in this world.
And it’s exactly the prerequisite; it’s exactly the precondition for our success. And we will make Ukraine a real success, not the failed state however someone could try to present us, but in a real democratic and European country, success in Europe and success in the world.
Many thanks for your attention, and I’m ready to take your questions. (Applause.)
DAMON WILSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. That was an insightful set of remarks.
My name is Damon Wilson. I’m executive vice president here at the Atlantic Council, and I’m delighted to be able to host a conversation. We want to follow up your remarks here and dig a little bit deeper on some of the issues. Particularly, so much is in the news today.
I want to remind all of you that are following this online to please follow along on social media using the hashtag acukraine. And I want to start by welcoming back Minister Klimkin to the Atlantic Council. We shared a stage together I think in July 2011, perhaps –
MIN. KLIMKIN: Exactly.
MR. WILSON: – exactly three years ago in a conference that I did with my colleague Anders Ostlund, who is here; Ambassador Steve Pifer, who is also with us today. And at the time you were deputy minister, very much engaged in the negotiations with the European Union and full bore moving forward with the negotiations of this complicated text for the Association Agreement, and yet you also got an earful while you were here about concerns about what was happening at the political level with the erosion of democratic institutions and practices in Ukraine at the time.
And as I’ve worked with Minister Klimkin over the years – I just want to add to Paul Grod’s introduction. This is a diplomat who, throughout very difficult times, has demonstrated a principled approach to policy, who has always had a degree of strategic clarity of Ukraine belonging in Europe, and who has been effective at pursuing those goals. So we’re delighted to see you back in Washington this time –
MIN. KLIMKIN: Thanks.
MR. WILSON: – empowered to pursue that, but again, in very, very difficult circumstances. So let’s pick up the conversation, if we may.
When we first – your visit here was prompted, in fact, by the downing of the Malaysian Airlines, that horrible tragedy that killed nearly 300 people in Donetsk. And since that time it’s been more apparent, I’d say, to a broader swath of the international community, of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. Their fingerprints were more obvious to a wider number of actors in the international community, such that many in many key capitals thought that this might actually be the time for President Putin to take a pause; to think, OK, this has gone too far and it’s time to step back before actually providing more momentum to further actions against Russia.
And yet what we’ve seen since the downing of the airlines has been what many have termed a doubling down in terms of Russian support for the separatists, the supply of arms and actual attacks on Ukrainian forces from Russian territory. So I just wanted to ask you about this phase of the conflict. What is happening right now in terms of Putin’s objective, Putin’s strategy? What do you think Russia is aiming for in the aftermath of the downing of the airlines?
MIN. KLIMKIN: Well, for many – for many of us, actually for all of us, downing of Malaysian airplane was a real game changer, was a real rubicon in the sense that many of us who simply did not understand fully the significance of what is going on in the eastern Ukraine or the capability the terrorists have for such actions like shooting down an airplane, and many – not here but partly also in Europe, somehow watched what is going on in Donetsk and Luhansk like, you know, through a kind of window. And now this case was like a stone, actually. Somehow Putin’s window, and completely – completely changed the perceptions there.
But if you – if you follow the Russian stance of that, do you see any sort of considerable change? You know, we were all changed. We were all changed by this case, by the tragic events around this case. But was there real opportunity also for Moscow actually to change a different – a different approach onboard? It’s exactly the issue. And the destabilizing of Donetsk and Luhansk has been going on now for weeks and months, but the real idea is not just Donetsk and Luhansk. The real idea is the whole Ukraine. And the idea is now or never. And it’s also for us and other countries the chance now or never.
So it’s about commitment. It’s about our commitment, but it’s also about continuous pressure on Russia to influence the Russian-backed terrorists. And after the tragedy with the plane, my approach would be a clear message: Take back – you know, you should take back – you should return a number of terrorist leaders who are Russian citizens who have clear link to the Russian security services and who don’t represent Donetsk and Luhansk in any way. And it could change the perception around escalation and it could enable us the possibility to talk to real representative of Donbass.
MR. WILSON: So let me ask you, Mr. Minister, you’re laying out a pathway for de-escalation, yet I think in the past 24 hours we heard from our deputy national security advisor, Tony Blinken, who said that we’ve seen a significant re-buildup of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for so-called humanitarian or peacekeeping intervention in Ukraine.
So since the ceasefire, just as Ukrainian forces have made progress on the ground, the White House seems to be signaling their deep concern about not just Russian-direct supplies and support for the so-called separatists, but perhaps for this so-called humanitarian – a direct Russian intervention in Ukraine. Do you feel that threat, that possibility today?
MIN. KLIMKIN: Firstly, I would not talk about any sort of humanitarian intervention, not in the sense of international law, or whatever sense. Intervention is intervention. And any case of shelling Ukrainian territory from the Russian territory actually represents an act of aggression in the sense of U.N. Charter. So aggression is aggression. And I’m pretty confident that we could avoid further escalation of the situation, but if aggression comes, we will fight this aggression with any means we have at our disposal.
MR. WILSON: So you’ve been working with Secretary Kerry just today and yesterday. You were in Brussels last week working with European Union foreign ministers on these so-called off-ramps, on these paths for de-escalation, which you mentioned in your remarks. Do you think there’s any chance that President Putin will take that opportunity to pursue a so-called off-ramp, as you’re saying? It’s striking that there have been quite a few opportunities that have been made available by many in the international community, and yet at each time Russia hasn’t gone down that path. So has anything changed that Putin might pursue that direction?
MIN. KLIMKIN: That is my point. And I said we don’t need sanctions for the sake of sanctions, but we need continuous and clear international pressure on Russia to change Russian stance on Ukraine overall but also on Donetsk and Luhansk in order to be able to de-escalate the situation there. And you probably need to – (inaudible) – in Moscow, inviting Putin and asking him this question directly. So it would be quite a lot of public attention to this area, Damon.
But generally I believe we should have a chance, and I believe in this chance. It’s extremely difficult. It’s extremely tricky. And the only way how we can pull it off is a joint action, not just Ukraine, not just European Union, not just U.S. And the normal Russian strategy – normal Russian strategy, normal Russian stance was always to split different efforts and different – (off mic) – European Union. Now it’s about solidarity and speaking with one voice, and this is a clear precondition for success.
MR. WILSON: So, Mr. Minister, we’ll supplement the mic perhaps to – part of your job – part of your job as foreign minister is to enlist support for Ukraine, and I think that’s what you’ve been doing here in Washington and your travels in Europe. And you’re here today after weeks if not months of debates in Western capitals about moving forward to the so-called sector-wide sanctions, the next stage of sanctions that have a stronger bite against elements of the Russian – sensitive elements of the Russian economy. And we’re seeing news coming out of Brussels that the European Union is moving now in that direction. The White House has said that they would follow in due course, as other G-7 partners.
These sanctions are designed not just to punish Russia but deter. So can I ask for your reaction, your comment on this final decision, this latest round of decisions on sectoral sanctions, and your assessment of how the sanctions policy has been effective or not in influencing Russian behavior?
MIN. KLIMKIN: Well, firstly, I don’t believe that the previous sanctions were effective in the sense they would be able to influence Russian behavior on Ukraine, but it’s in the way – international way how the sanctions were imposed. But now we are talking about really minor but already – already sanctions, which could hurt not Russian economy. And it’s a smart way how they are introduced by different sectors like defense or like the possibility to access financial markets for Russian state institutions, for institutions that are normally used for driving forward Russian policy.
And in this sense it’s an important issue, and it is an issue everyone here, everyone in the European Union should simply ask himself or herself: What kind of Russian behavior can we tolerate? And it’s a clear point here. If Russia – and we have the case of Russia broke international law but also political commitments. We need to have an instrument how to return to the status quo, how to return to the world where we have rules and where such rules are respected by anyone. And developments around Ukraine showed that such mechanism are not there. So they’re under development. So we are a kind of test case for that, and hopefully a good one, not a bad one.
MR. WILSON: I want to give some time to take some questions from the audience. Let me ask one other one. And then, folks, if you could catch my eye, I’ll bring you into the conversation with the minister. You’re clearly here seeking greater support for Ukraine. And you’ve seen some reaction on the sanctions front. But what would you say — what does Ukraine need most right now? And without betraying all the confidences of your meetings here in Washington, what are you asking for and what are you getting? What’s on the list that Ukraine needs more urgently in this crisis?
MIN. KLIMKIN: Well, it’s about short term and it’s about mid-term. It’s about support for reforms in Ukraine, for reforms not just in economic sphere but also for judicial system, rule of law. It’s about financial support because we have very good IMF program. And the only condition which hasn’t been taken into account is undeclared war in Donetsk and Luhansk. We need also further assistance for our military capabilities.
And it’s also the issue now and for the future. And we need of course real solidarity — real solidarity from here, real solidarity from the European Union on these spheres like energy, on the spheres like European integration. And I also — I also can follow the change in atmosphere, both here and in the European Union, from the perception of partnership towards a real solidarity and engagement. And it’s probably, you know, later than we wanted to, but it’s already — it’s already a fact of life.
MR. WILSON: And just one quick follow up. We’ve been doing a lot of work up on the Hill and there’s been a very active debate about the right kind of military assistance for Ukraine, because after all you’re in a conflict today. Are you seeing movement, progress on that particular issue? And then I’ll turn to Anders Aslund, please.
MIN. KLIMKIN: Yes, and not only here, in D.C. Last week we were able to — (inaudible) — a veto for supplies from the European Union, which has been imposed on the 20th of February. So we have different options and different ways now. But again, it’s not about just — (inaudible) — up our military capability. It’s about — it’s about reform and reshuffle for the whole security sector in Ukraine, not only for military forces. But it’s not all aimed at military solution. It’s about clear idea, how today’s — (inaudible) — situation there. But we need such reshuffled military forces and security sector in order to provide law and order in Ukraine and to be able to defend ourselves.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, there’s so much expertise in this room on Ukraine. I want to turn and bring the audience in. If the mike runner could come up, we’ll have Anders Aslund, please. Please, for our audience, if you could introduce yourself, your affiliation and then ask a brief question so we can keep a conversation moving. I’ll bring in a couple of comments, Ambassador Pavilionis next.
Q: Anders Aslund, Peterson Institution for International Economics. Minister Klimkin, you were the chief negotiator of the European association agreement. And it would be interesting to see — to hear from you what you think are the most important things that Ukraine can benefit in the short term from this association agreement. Will it really open up the market so that Ukraine can export to Europe when Russia is closing its market? How will it help you to reform the Ukrainian state? Will it help you to bring the rule of law to a great extent to Ukraine?
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Anders. Let me pick up a second question with the ambassador here in the front, please.
Q: Thank you, Minister. And full solidarity with everything you do and you say. But while you spoke a lot about sanctions, defense, and for me this sounds like minimum what we do in defending the situation. So it’s kind of reaction defense. But do you feel the support from the Washington on something else that was very important for the Baltic states to make it successful, vision to make you part of the West? Do you feel the leadership of Washington in pushing for membership, in the EU, for example?
MR. WILSON: Thank you. Please, Mr. Minister.
MIN. KLIMKIN: Well, firstly, it was always my point after implementation of the association agreement — I mean, after full implementation, Ukraine will look like — will look like a different country, a real European country, because the association agreement is about framework for reforms in the political sphere, economic sphere, sectoral integration. And the key idea of the agreement is flexibility and the idea to — (inaudible) — in Ukrainian legislation the European legislation so — (inaudible).
And we can effectively, you know, carry out trade with Asia or Latin America on the basis of WTO. But we can’t access the EU market without adapting the whole — not the whole, but at least considerable part of the — (inaudible). And it’s the most powerful neighboring market for Ukraine, with an — well, with a lot of opportunities there. And if you talk to our businesses, the people are simply thrilled and enthusiastic about the future opportunities.
The only point, how quick — how sensibly quick we can use this opportunity. And probably in one month, in two months it will be still difficult to enjoy the full power of association agreement. So it should be our challenge to implement — to start implementing the agreement as soon as possible. But it should be also the challenge for the European Union to assist us in implementation in the way the European Union assisted the new member states.
So their ideas, the instruments, the two — (inaudible) — already available in the European Union is simply not sufficient for the effective implementation. And we’ve been working now on a number of new ideas. And you know, the window for these ideas is open. So and we need, of course, your support. The idea of influencing the EU for EU membership perspective, it was — it was always my point.
I’m fully confident that because of ongoing changes in the European Union and on the whole on the European continent, it’s not, you know, the most pressing issue to fight for formal recognition of membership perspective, but it’s key now to get a European perspective. European perspective in the sense that Ukraine could become a member of the European Union if Ukraine is ready and fully capable to deliver on relevant EU criteria.
So to put — you know, to get across in Europe the idea that Ukraine should start negotiations on EU membership, let’s say in a couple of years, could be extremely — (inaudible). So I’m — I’ve been fighting now for the European perspective, for the political recognition for Ukraine, for the political right for Ukraine to become a member. And membership perspective, will definitely come in the — in the course of implementation of the association agreement. And it will come sooner rather than later.
After Yanukovych refused to sign the association agreement, I held a speech in Berlin about that. And I was asked, you know, look — what is your — what is your take? When you’re going to able to sign the association agreement? And my point was, it would be – it would rather sooner than later. And my Germans friends told me, look, it’s about 2016, probably, or later. Now we have the association agreement signed. And my point – you probably don’t believe me, but the membership perspective will come far sooner than many of you believe here.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Quite a statement.
Let me turn to Steve Sestanovich, please.
Q: I’m Steve Sestanovich.
MR. WILSON: Yes, it’s on. I think it’s on. Yep.
Q: Steve Sestanovich, Columbia University and Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Minister, you’ve talked about your determination to build consensus in Ukraine and expressed an interest in talking to people in Donetsk and Luhansk who are not Russian operatives. But you also expressed a determination to fight to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you keep those goals from conflicting with each other? The impact of an all-out military campaign, obviously, can be negative for national reconciliation. And in The New York Times this morning, there were some suggestions that Ukraine’s military tactics may have gone beyond what President Poroshenko has outlined. We would benefit from hearing your views on this.
MR. WILSON: Terrific. Let me pick up one more. David Sedney, please, if we could just pass the mic back a few rows. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. David Sedney, formerly with the Department of Defense. Mr. Minister, you spoke about your determination not to have another frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine and said frozen conflicts should be eliminated. What steps is Ukraine taking now, is prepared to take to address the other – the frozen conflict that does exist on your borders in Transnistria?
MR. WILSON: So why don’t we pick up those two, please?
MIN. KLIMKIN: Yeah, firstly, I believe these goals are fully compatible and sustainable because we’re going to fight the Russian-backed terrorists but not – but not the people of Donetsk and Lugansk. And if you see the situation on the ground, it’s about a limited number of terroristic leaders, and it’s about, you know, a couple of thousand people – (inaudible) – mercenaries who came from Russia or criminal gangs hired for money on the ground.
So if we are able to counter this influence, if we are able to counter the terrorists, we would be fully able to talk in a very positive way, not just round tables but in a way of carrying out inclusive, effective dialogue with the people who stay in many cases under Russian propaganda, the propaganda from the Russian state channels, or probably is still not confident in the ability of – our ability, of the ability of Ukraine government to provide for key conditions for Donbass because the issues of use of Russian language, for example, is an issue which has been always played up in a way. It’s a political issue.
And because of that, we believe that the framework of decentralization is indeed – is indeed the framework, firstly, for de-escalation and finding the way, finding the way how to take into account the interest of people, how to give them more freedom but also how to give them more responsibility at the level of community, at the level of district, at the level of region. And any issue which couldn’t be addressed at this level should be taken through Kiev at the level of regional government. So I believe, and this my – also my personal convictions, that these goals are fully compatible because they should address simply different kind of people.
On the idea of avoidance of frozen conflict, firstly, how any sort of frozen conflict could evolve? And if you remember Transnistria, we remember Karabakh. And I would not draw any parallel because all stories are different. But what is critical is not to let splitting of Ukraine, not to let Donestk and Lugansk to establish Russian-controlled structures and not to let them to have a veto over decisions, over key decision of central government.
And fourth, and probably it’s the most important issue, is to explain in extremely clear and understandable terms what our intentions are and that we are ready to provide wide-ranging decentralization, we are ready to account all possible concerns, but we are also ready and responsible for – (inaudible) – not just law and order but normal life in Donestk and Donbass. And the people who are watching the ongoing developments clearly understand what is at stake.
And even before the events in Donetsk and Lugansk, according to different opinion polls, there were 18, if I remember probably, in Donetsk area and 20 percent in Lugansk area for – you know, for the idea of joining Russia. Now it’s far less. It’s about clear understanding who is for and who is against.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, we quite tight on time. I was take – try to squeeze in one last question. We’ll turn to the gentleman on the far right. If you could be as brief as possible. Please, just back there. I’m sorry, the man behind you I saw first, just – thank you.
Q: Thank you.
Mr. Minister, my name is David Colton (ph). I’m with the AG Warra (ph) group. I was wondering if I could tease out a little more thought about your concept of the status quo. For example, in this town, many friends of Ukraine, like Zbigniew Brzezinski and others, have articulated a future of Ukraine that is not necessarily part of the customs union but not necessarily fully integrated into the Western defense structure. And they’ve used the word, I think conveniently, Finlandization, but it’s a broad sense of Ukraine as sovereign and independent but not necessarily of either bloc.
There is also a growing chorus in this town of people who’ve pointed out that during the period of Finlandization, Soviet role in Finnish domestic politics undermined, crippled and eventually destroyed Finnish reforms in democracy. Could I get your thoughts about what the security status quo might be for Ukraine in the future? Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Thank you. Mr. Minister, I had hoped to take a few more questions, but I know you are headed to the White House after this, so we – I’ve committed to end you on time. So I’m going to turn to you with this question as a – as a final question for you to take and any concluding comment you’d like to make for the event today as well, please.
MIN. KLIMKIN: You know, Finlandization, no, we need – we need to get a bit of mentality probably on language to be concentrated on that. So I personally don’t believe in just the option which is taken by Finland. I believe it’s a unique one.
Secondly, any sort of situation in existence in between is unsustainable. So we need a sustainable option for the future of Ukraine. And we need sustainable security architecture, not just for Ukraine but also in Europe. And because existing security structures simply don’t match the challenge, we need new security arrangements. We discussed years and years within the OSCE how they can look like, totally failed. Probably the present situation should push us not just in more discussions but in more – in more effective solutions. We will come up – and I have personally a couple of ideas how to organize – you know, how to structure, how to shape more confident builders measures, how to have, you know, control regimes for conventional arms, which is unfortunately nowhere, how to have more – how to create more trust.
But it’s not about, you know – (inaudible) – for the pattern, security pattern as existence in between. And there was a lot of talking about Ukraine is a kind of breach. And I believe the breach is not the best possible idea. So the breach is always dangerous to – you know, as just – as just an existence.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, thank you so much. Thank you.
I would like to just try to close today, if I may first, just by word of thanks to the terrific Atlantic Council staff that helped put this on on short notice, working with Ambassador Motsyk and his team at the embassy. I want to thank our audience, both online and here in presence, and importantly our board and our partners who have actually made all of our work on Ukraine possible.
Mr. Minister, as you know, this – today’s event is not just to focus on the crisis that’s unfolding in your country, but it represents the Atlantic Council’s long-term commitment to a democratic sovereign united Ukraine that finds its place in Europe. So please join me in thanking the minister for his words today and his time. (Applause.)