News / Europe

New Ukraine FM Seen Bringing Sober Style to Kyiv Diplomacy

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is seen arriving at the EU foreign ministers council at the European Council headquarters in Luxembourg city, Luxembourg, June 23, 2014.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is seen arriving at the EU foreign ministers council at the European Council headquarters in Luxembourg city, Luxembourg, June 23, 2014.
Carl Schreck, RFE/RL
One day after then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych unexpectedly scuttled plans to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union at a Vilnius summit, his envoy in Berlin took to German radio to explain Kyiv's decision.
 
But Pavlo Klimkin also seized the moment to express his personal frustration with the move before quickly softening his comment.
 
"I wanted the agreement to be signed in Vilnius, and personally I am also unbelievably disappointed," Klimkin said in the November 22 interview with German broadcaster RBB. "But that does not mean that in the near future we do not want to do this and cannot do this."
 
It was a brief rhetorical detour from the official line that highlighted two key strands running through the career of the man tapped last week to be Ukraine's new foreign minister: a vision of his country's future as planted squarely in Europe and a predilection for cautious diplomacy.
 
Klimkin, who was confirmed for the post on June 19 after being nominated by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, brings to his new job a reputation as a skilled negotiator and consummate diplomat capable of deftly navigating Ukraine's integration with Europe as well as its tattered ties with Moscow.
 
"We really want to join the European Union," Klimkin told German broadcaster tv.berlin in an interview earlier this year. "That's a strategic goal and a strategic priority, not just in our foreign policy but also our domestic policy. And with Russia, we want to further deepen our cooperation."
 
Klimkin, who was born in the Russian city of Kursk and studied in Moscow, assumes the post amid his country's greatest crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea territory in March, and Kyiv has sent federal forces into eastern Ukraine to battle armed pro-Russian separatists.
 
Difference in style, not substance
 
Signals from Moscow indicate that the Kremlin feels it can work with Klimkin, whose immediate predecessor, Andriy Deshchytsya, sparked controversy earlier this month when he was caught on camera using an obscenity to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin.
 
"All we can do is wish him a productive start to his work in this new, important post," Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RIA Novosti, calling Klimkin one of Ukraine's "most experienced, well-known diplomats."
 
Klimkin, however, could hardly be considered a pro-Russian choice by Poroshenko, analysts say. His tenure is likely to differ from Deshchytsya's in style, but not substance, said Andreas Umland, a political scientist at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in the Ukrainian capital.
 
"I think he will keep a somewhat lower profile in terms of making political statements," Umland told RFE/RL. "But in principle I don't think there's an ideological difference between them. They are both pro-Western and there's only a minor difference in style, I would say."
 
Klimkin graduated from Moscow's Institute of Physics and Technology in 1991 and began his diplomatic career two years later.
 
A native Russian speaker who is fluent in both English and German, he would go on to serve in Ukraine's Foreign Ministry in Kyiv, Germany, and Britain, and in 2008 he became Ukraine's lead negotiator on the Association Agreement with the EU.
 
Analysts say Klimkin's central role in negotiating the terms of the agreement was likely a key factor in his appointment.
 
"Klimkin is an experienced diplomat, with a substantial background in Ukraine-Europe relations," Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told RFE/RL. "So I see his appointment as confirmation that President Poroshenko attaches priority to developing Kyiv's relationship with the European Union."
 
Effective negotiator
 
Colleagues, acquaintances and analysts describe Klimkin as an affable, effective, and cautious diplomat with little taste for public political tussles.
 
"He was, as far as I know, in the diplomatic service always sort of a pointedly neutral figure," said Umland, who has met Klimkin. "For instance there was this movement among some Ukrainian diplomats during the last weeks of Yanukovych's rule to voice their protest against Yanukovych, and Klimkin has not done so."
 
Kostyantyn Bondarenko, a political analyst with the Institute for Ukrainian Policy, said Klimkin is a choice that Moscow finds palatable and that he is capable of being an effective negotiator with Russia, the EU, and the United States.
 
"He doesn't like conflict and is a universal diplomat who can solve many problems," Bondarenko told the "Kommersant" newspaper.
 
At the very least, Klimkin may be able to nurture a rapport based on personal interests with his cigar-loving Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
 
When a Nicaraguan diplomat in Berlin launched a cigar lounge in the German capital in September 2012, Klimkin was among a handful of ambassadors to make an appearance at the opening.

With reporting by AFP

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