Former FM Klimkin on penalties for Ukrainians abroad – interview

Former Ukrainian FM Pavlo Klimkin
Former Ukrainian FM Pavlo Klimkin

Former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin spoke in an interview with NV Radio on April 28 about the negative implications of suspending consular services for draft-eligible Ukrainian citizen abroad and the steps the government should take to remedy the situation.

NV: Restrictions on consular services for draft-age men abroad. Experts predict the decision will have both short-term and long-term consequences. How do you assess this decision from a moral and legal point of view?

Klimkin: In fact, there are many serious issues here, albeit emotional ones, and it’s quite difficult to make it all simple.

First, there’s a very human and very emotional issue. And it comes down to meaning for me, what’s justice? Each of us, has a common understanding, as Ukrainians, as free people, of the concept of justice. You know I don’t read social media, but my friends have sent me a lot over the past few days just to read how our society reacted to the news.

The questions people ask are very different. In fact, there are smart and cool-headed people. But why was this done just now? Why not earlier? Why not when the [recently enacted mobilization reform] law comes into force [in May]? And what’s justice? Justice, which worries many, has become a political decision in some sense.

And here we come to the second very important dimension: communication. Here I’m not talking just about the Foreign Ministry, but the broader state apparatus. You’ve seen that both the state passport service and the Foreign Ministry are responsible here. In general, there’s a lot of everything, which brings me to a very simple point. What would I have done?

Your colleagues, both the Germans and the Dutch, have already asked me: “What would you do, Mr. Klimkin?” I would actually make temporary changes to the procedure for providing consular services. Could we have done this instead? Yes, we could have. Both politically and legally since the mobilization law changes the legal field. For a certain period, we should then say: “Yes, our procedure is changing, just like that.” And we should explain why it changes.

We should also ensure that people who, for example, have already paid to obtain their documents, would have the opportunity to receive them, maintaining predictability for them.

This is the Foreign Ministry’s responsibility, but it’s also the responsibility from a legal point of view. I don’t think we’re about to see this challenged in courts immediately, but someone is already trying to study the legal basis whether it’s necessary to file lawsuits. And that worries me. It’s a bad story in general and a bad story for a country in wartime.

Read also: Ukraine's FM confirms: consular services halted for men abroad

NV: That is, there is a real prospect that some Ukrainian will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights? Because human rights defenders say this is a human rights violation.

Klimkin: I’m not saying it will happen, but I don’t rule it out. Of course, in order to appeal, they must go through the full chain [of Ukrainian courts]. But I’m concerned not only about individual lawsuits, but about the possibility of class action lawsuits.

I read two posts sent to me from abroad where someone is already talking to foreign lawyers. This is, of course, our legislation, but nevertheless, a disturbance can arise around the issue.

And someone will take advantage of it. It’s 100% certain that it will be used by the Kremlin for propaganda purposes. They will have their own communication strategy, and maybe even a legal strategy. I don’t rule out they’ll work with both the political right and the left. That is, hard right and hard left [political forces in Europe].

That is, we must prepare for major difficulties. We need a dedicated strategy for this.

And there’s one more point to which I drew attention in the discussion abroad. There are, of course, draft dodgers, everything is clear with them, and our attitude is clear, both from a legal and moral point of view. But there are people who left many years ago, found work there, who identify as Ukrainians, who work very hard and raise funds to support Ukraine. And they say: “Okay, sure, we understand about draft dodgers, but what about us?”

We need to think about the changes we’ll make to the consular service rules so that we distinguish people from different categories — people who actually violate the law and people who haven’t done anything wrong according to the new mobilization law.

There’s also an argument that “you’ll push people away, they will run and take foreign passports,” I don’t believe in this story. Whoever wants to take it will take it anyway. This, of course, isn’t about that. But to push away a part of Ukrainians who have settled abroad, but feel themselves Ukrainians, purely emotionally, not politically... As a rule, these are educated people who do a lot. That is, we shouldn’t put those who are really with us in heart and mind, helping, but found themselves many years ago abroad and working there, on par with the draft dodgers.

What’s done is done. We’ve already done it, that much is clear. We just need to think about how we move forward. And this is a complex story. It’s not only about the Foreign Ministry, but also about all of us. Since we cannot refuse consular services to citizens, this is obvious. This is the meaning of what kind of country we are. And we are a democratic country in which citizens are respected.

Consular services may be suspended for a reason. But we cannot refuse [the provision of these services] outright. If so, we must create a legal basis for that. If we don’t do it, someone will definitely take advantage of it.

Read also: Restrictions on consular services for Ukrainians in Germany will not affect their refugee status

NV: How do you think countries where Ukrainians live will react? Will these countries agree to restrict the rights of Ukrainian citizens, encouraging them to return home? 

Klimkin: First of all, this will be decided on a country-by-country basis. There are no common EU rules that would generalize attitudes on this. Secondly, I don’t currently see a developed legal framework, at least in the EU countries, to agree to help Ukraine in repatriating our citizens. Of course, I won’t talk about all [countries], but I don’t see any [norms] in the European Union that would allow draft-age men to be returned by force without causing internal legal problems.

Of course, such legislation can be passed, but it’s not so easy. It will cause political storms in the countries that would attempt it. Second, it will be very difficult to do logistically. I think no one will do something that politically risky.

As of today, some of our friends can create a background that will be more favorable, but I don’t see how the legal framework can work in any EU country.

And thirdly. From the EU migration legislation: if you have the opportunity to apply for asylum, you can obtain temporary documents. And of course, they can refuse this temporary status, but then anyone who claims asylum will sue. A trial will begin that cannot end in two, four, or six weeks.

Lastly, let’s be honest at least with ourselves. Some countries are absolutely interested in keeping Ukrainians where they are. This is a great deal for Germany, as it allows the country to get access to cheap labor without relying on migrants from other regions. That is, core EU countries aren’t interested in pushing out Ukrainian refugees.

I believe these reasons, including legislation, political risks, and national interest, make this procedure very difficult in a large-scale sense. This doesn’t mean that we cannot talk with our partners and EU friends. There are actually interesting ideas. But I see it more as an encouragement than a coercion. And if we want to talk to them, the conversation should be exactly about incentives.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine