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Pavlo Klymkin in The Hague: ‘We live in a constantly changing world’

These are trying times for Ukraine. The armed conflicts with Russia in Donbass and Crimea have still not come to an end after starting in 2014. Ukranian minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klymkin came to The Hague on February 2nd to discuss these current issues with Leiden students. ‘Ukranians will always move forward, we have spirit.’

Physicist turned diplomat

The lecture hall on the ground floor of the Schouwburgstraat Building in The Hague slowly fills up with students, all awaiting the arrival of Pavlo Klymkin. Klymkin, a physicist turned diplomat who eventually turned Ukraine’s minister of Foreign Affairs during one of the most turbulent times in Ukranian history, took time out of his schedule visiting The Netherlands to speak to Leiden University students about International Relations and the situation in Ukraine.

However not completely filled, the lecture hall is quite full with students from all over the world. The interest for the lecture is high. ‘I’m delighted to see such a big crowd of students interested in international relations’, Klymkin says as he arrives.

An interesting discussion

‘I’d like to ask: what do you think of when you think of Ukraine?’ the minister asks when he opens the discussion. Hands go up in the air. ‘Home’, says one student. ‘Orange Revolution’, says another. ‘Corruption’. ‘Oligarchy’. ‘Russia’. ‘Crimea’. After listening patiently Klymkin says: ‘Ok, this is going to be an interesting discussion.’

Crimea conflict

During the Q&A, a student asks Klymkin what went through his mind when the Russians were at standing at Ukraine’s border in 2014. Klymkin added a critical note about the United Nations Security Council: ‘When the Russians were at the border’, he says, ‘we wanted to go about it the official way, to go through the council. But when troops are already at the border, this is impossible, there’s simply no time for it. I realized that in situations like these the UN Security council is ineffective. Everything came too late for us. This was a lesson.”

Klymkin was visibly impressed with the knowledge of the students present. He answered questions about pro-Russia separatists, to the impeachment of former president Yanukovych and the controversial pipe line that runs through Ukraine to export Russian gas to Europe.

A changing world

Klymkin ends the Q&A with some advice to the students from fellow physicist Albert Einstein. Klymkin: ‘Einstein, who is part of Leiden University’s legacy, once had a discussion with one of his students. The student complained: why are you asking us the same question as you did two years ago? Einstein replied: ‘because now the answers are different.’’

Klymkin continues: ‘We live in a world that is constantly changing, international relations are changing faster than ever – look at what’s happening in the realm of cyber security for example. Russia has meddled with the American, French and German elections and continues daily cyber warfare against Ukraine with the aim to destabilise the country. When you start a career in international relations, stay alert. And always remember to stick to your principles and to who you think you are.’

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