Ukraine has managed to become independent from Russian gas imports but wants to remain an important gas transit country for Gazprom supplies to Europe, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told New Europe in an exclusive interview.
“Ukraine was energy junkie — just wasting energy. Now for more than 600 days, we have not been buying any Russian gas. It was completely unimaginable, something mind-blowing just four years ago. We have our own production and we’ve been buying gas from the European Union, from European hubs,” Klimkin said, leaning back on his chair at a hotel in downtown Athens. He was in Greece to attend the Athens Democracy Forum.
“The whole point is to have engagement of EU companies in the EU gas transit system. Of course, we have political projects like Nord Stream-2 and it’s without any kind of economic background, just with the idea to circumvent Ukraine,” he argued, echoing Kiev’s concerns that if the new pipeline from Russia to Germany is built eventually Russian gas giant Gazprom will no longer need to transit Russian gas through Ukraine to get to Europe.
“Fundamentally the most cost-effective and also security-effective, if I may say so, option is to use Ukrainian gas transit system, which is absolutely unique in the sense of its capacity. But, of course, it’s part of the wider exercise of including Ukraine in the European energy space, in the Energy Union,” Klimkin said. But it’s not only about gas. It’s about, for example, parallel functioning electricity networks. It’s about getting Ukraine as a part of the Energy Union,” he added.
Asked about EU mediated gas talks between Russia and Ukraine to ensure uninterrupted gas supplies to Europe, Klimkin said, “Of course, we are ready for further discussions. But fundamentally it should be done on the basis of real legal ground. And the real legal ground is the relevant decision and the oncoming decision of the Stockholm arbitration”.
The Ukrainian Foreign Minister stressed that any kind of future consultations should be based on European principles and European approach. “Ukraine is and will be reliable partner for the European Union,” Klimkin said, asked if Ukraine would be a reliable gas partner for Europe and Russian accusations that the former Soviet republic siphoned gas during the two gas crises. “I remember quite well what was happening, two gas crises. How Russia was trying to blame Ukraine but we were open and transparent from the very beginning. Also inviting EU missions, simply monitoring the gas flow and understanding all kind of Russian tricks. And fundamentally is about transparency, openness and having clear base in European rules, as simple as this,” he argued.
Reform of Ukraine’s energy system is one of the aspects of EU-Ukraine cooperation. On August 1, the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine entered fully into force. Klimkin, who was chief negotiator for the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement for many years, stressed that the implementation of the Association Agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) “is political” and “is mainly about integration”.
“DCFTA is intentionally designed in the way of Ukraine gradually embracing four freedoms. Of course, the fourth freedom is about national competence in the European Union. But fundamentally the whole idea is not just to have better trade but to get into Ukraine EU investors and to include Ukraine into the supply chains of European companies,” he said. “And the same idea is the key one about sector cooperation. Because what we have in mind on trade, on transport, on energy, on many issues is fundamentally about integration. And now we have the agreement in place,” Klimkin said, adding that now 40% of Ukraine’s trade turnout with the European Union.
Asked about Ukraine’s widespread corruption, Klimkin said, “It’s difficult to fully eradicate corruption from one day to another but in these three years we did a lot first in the sense of shaping up the system of tackling corruption”. He noted that Ukraine now has an anti-corruption agency and unique system of electronic declaration. “Of course all kinds of anti-corruption measures should further gain momentum and we have to help this development,” he said.
“In the sense of creating fully new mentality, creating new way of carrying forward business, it’s just the beginning,” he added. “For example, police was endemically corrupt in Ukraine and now you drive around Kiev, you drive around other cities without threat of being asked for a bribe,” Klimkin said, smiling.
Asked about whether Kiev is closer to the EU or the US, Klimkin said that Ukraine is already part of the transatlantic space. “In that sense, Ukraine will be – and it’s my personal conviction, if you like – part of transatlantic structures. The European Union is one part of this exercise and NATO is another part of this exercise,” he said.
Asked about the first ever US shipments of anthracite coal to Ukraine delivered a day earlier (September 13) as part of a deal brokered this summer by the administration of US President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s leadership, Klimkin said, “The reason why we simply have to buy coal from the US is that we are now unable to buy coal from the occupied territories and it’s a special sort of coal our electricity production is adjusted to”.
Asked if Ukraine also expects military help from Trump, Klimkin said, “It’s already there. We have very effective common training in Ukraine and it’s not only about US, it’s about other countries, of course, and it’s going forward. We’ve been having supplies of weapons”.
“At the end of the day, it’s the most important point because the Russians injected in the occupied territories all kinds of newly–created weaponry and we need to counter the Russians with modern technology,” he argued.
Asked if he expects an end to the conflict in the near future, Klimkin argued, “Look, we have Russian aggression and the war with Russia because Russia, firstly, occupied Crimea and, secondly, occupied Donbass and tried to use both Crimea, but especially Donbass, for further destabilisation of us, of Ukraine as a European and democratic project.”
Asked about how can the EU help resolve the conflict in Donbass, Klimkin said Ukraine wants international peacekeepers. “The road to peace is basically very simple. So Russia should leave Donbass and I mean Russian regular forces, all kinds – instructors, of course, merchenaries and weaponry – and we need international component to come in. We have now only specially monitoring mission of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) there. Unfortunately, this mission is continually intimidated by the Russians, by the Russian-propped terrorists in Donbass. They have no real access to the whole territory of Donbass and to the uncontrolled part of the Russian-Ukrainian border,” Klimkin claimed.
Asked if the ceasefire is holding, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister said, “We spent a lot of time negotiating so-called back-to-school-ceasefire. Ceasefire does not hold. We have less shelling from heavy weaponry but a lot of shelling from light weaponry. The situation is tense as before. We don’t have the special monitoring mission, really monitoring and verifying the occupied Donbass. It’s actually part of their direct mandate. So fundamentally we can even start talking about sanctions if we have not just ceasefire because ceasefire is a first step and Donbass actually would remain occupied. The Russians should leave Donbass and they should leave Donbass with their troops, mercenaries and weaponry. We need Donbass to be controlled by the international community and prepare for the real transitional period. Prepare real free and fair elections. Maybe not ideal elections but free and fair elections,” he said.
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