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Targeting Ukraine's Corrupt Leaders

A recent policy memo of the European Council on Foreign Relations, “The EU and Ukraine after the 2012 Elections” (pdf), is well worth reading. Its author is Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow at the council, a reader in Ukrainian studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London, and the author of several highly regarded books on Ukraine.

Wilson begins by reminding us that “Relations between the EU and Ukraine are at an impasse. The last two years have been dominated by rows over the selective prosecution of regime opponents, in particular the conviction of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in October 2011, and an accelerating trend towards a more authoritarian and corrupt style of rule in Ukraine.”

So what should the EU do about Ukraine? The answer, in short, is to embrace its people and squeeze its ruling elites.

Wilson warns that the EU should not “make the conduct of the elections the only criterion for deciding whether or not it should restart relations with Ukraine, or judge the authorities more on past than on present behavior and use a critique of the elections to move towards a de facto isolation policy.”

After all, as tempted as Europe might be to run its back on the regime of Viktor Yanukovych, doing so would only deprive the EU of leverage, do nothing to stem Regionnaire misrule, and wind up punishing the people of Ukraine, and not the authorities.

According to Wilson: “The EU therefore needs to think of creative ways of regaining influence while maintaining red lines on values—not least because the political situation in Ukraine could easily deteriorate further…. The authorities are entrenching themselves in power by every possible means, and members of the literal and metaphorical ‘family’ around President Yanukovych are using that power to enrich themselves on an unprecedented scale. The EU cannot afford to wait until the next contest in 2015.”

So what, specifically, should the EU do? Wilson makes the following suggestions:

First, Europe needs to speak with one voice—which is another way of saying that Europe needs to have one clearly articulated position on Ukraine and stick to it. As long as Berlin says one thing, Brussels another, and Paris still another, the Regionnaires will be able to talk out of both sides of their mouths and avoid giving clear answers.

Second, Wilson recommends the “provisional application” of the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with Ukraine: “the agreements … will help transform Ukrainian society in the long run…. But it makes little sense to block the agreements to punish Ukraine. Rather, the EU should take a tougher line in other areas in order to allow the agreements to be revived.”

Just what kind of tougher line?

“The resolution on Ukraine passed by the US Senate in September [2012] is the beginning of a trend towards the construction of a Ukrainian equivalent of the ‘Magnitsky List.’ The European Commission is investigating Gazprom. The EU should start with a visa ban on Renat Kuzmin, the deputy prosecutor responsible for the trials of Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko.”

A visa ban on odious individuals would be nice, but hitting ’em where it hurts—their pocket books—would, of course, be better.

“The EU should also audit the activities of suspect ‘family’ companies in Austria, Cyprus and Luxembourg (and in Liechtenstein and Switzerland), which break existing EU law. This need not be formal ‘sanctions’; it can be undertaken by national financial security agencies. The US is currently taking a tougher line, but most of the Ukrainian elite’s financial malfeasance is within the EU and dependencies like the British Virgin Islands. For example, the Activ Solar company, which is based in Vienna, allegedly acts as a front for government circles that are siphoning off budget money and circulating it back home tax free.”

A Ukrainian friend suggests a more refined version of hitting the elites where it hurts: the EU and the US should publicly roll out an entire program of sanctions entailing travel bans and wealth confiscations along with specific demands and deadlines. Each set of sanctions would reach higher up the food chain and effectively tighten the noose around the president, while giving him both time and reason to stop the process. Thus, the first step might be to ban the abovementioned Kuzmin and his entire family from traveling to the West unless Tymoshenko and Lutsenko are released in, say, two months. If nothing happens, the second step might be to ban Kuzmin’s boss and a raft of other individuals within the Justice Ministry and Procuracy. Third on the list might be Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, whose son leads a lavish lifestyle in Vienna. Fourth might be Viktor Yanukovych’s two sons. And so on, until, months on, it would be the president’s turn. By then, Yanukovych might realize that the West is serious, that sanctions hurt, and that all can be made well by dismantling the sultanate and restoring democracy and the free market.

Third, says Wilson, the EU should pursue visa liberalization for Ukrainians. “Ratification by the European Parliament of the new amended Visa Facilitation Agreement signed in July has also been blocked because of the Tymoshenko affair, but should now move forward.… Wider travel will liberalize Ukraine in the long run.”

Naturally, nothing would annoy the Regionnaires so much as seeing that the ordinary folk have the privileges they now lack. What’s the point of being a crook if you can’t flash your Rolex watch in Paree?

In the end, Wilson concludes, “Ukraine’s leaders behave like they have immunity and impunity, as if Ukraine were a vital raw material supplier or possessed of other geopolitical importance. In reality, they only have power in isolation. The EU should not fear continuing to apply tough standards to Ukraine. But the EU needs leverage and should also work harder to show it is on the side of Ukraine’s beleaguered democratic, liberal and economically constructive forces. Once Ukraine develops proper relations with Europe appropriate to its size, location and economic potential, the EU’s leverage will be much higher. It’s time to show Ukraine some tough love.”

Hear, hear! Except for one thing: you can’t love gangsters and thugs. You can only be tough with them. As to love, reserve that for the people.

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