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US resolution is timely, adds much-needed pressure on government

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Sept. 25, 2012, 10:03 a.m. | Op-ed — by Ostap Semerak

A 28 October 2006 photo shows the rear of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC with the Senate side of the building on the right, and the House side at the far left.
© AFP

 Late in the night of Sept. 22, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution calling on Ukraine to release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison and introduce sanctions against the officials who were instrumental in her jailing.

 Senate Resolution 466 was initiated by Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma) in May. Later, Senators Richard Durbin (Democrat-Illinois), Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California), Robert P. Casey Jr. (Democrat-Pennsylvania) and Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) joined in to push the initiative.

 It took the Senate four months to go through the whole procedure, which is now criticized by Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry in a very non-diplomatic fashion.

 The reaction of the Foreign Ministry, which questioned the procedure for approval and essentially attacked the US for lack of democracy, was nothing but unhealthy.

 But this reaction of Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, which would be unacceptable anywhere in the civilized world, is quite understandable because his ministry failed to follow up on its progress in the Senate. The resolution’s appearance on the agenda became a nasty surprise for President Viktor Yanukovych ahead of his visit to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly session.

 Although it's called: “A resolution calling for the release from prison of former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko,” it covers a wide spectrum of political problems in Ukraine.  It lists major events in the nation's politics since 1991, pointing out various stages of ruining the democracy.

 Among other things, the resolution assesses some actions of Yanukovych and his team. It says the criminal code was used to punish political decisions of a dozen Ukrainian politicians associated with the Orange Revolution, which became the society's reaction to falsifications of the previous presidential election in favor of Yanukovych.

 Thus, the authors of the resolution are clearly hinting at personal motives for persecution of opponents, which our president has.

 The main messages for the Ukrainian government in the resolution is a call to free from prison the political opponents and conduct a fair and transparent election in October 2012, which would meet the standards of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) member nations.

 The Senate also expressed concerns that the country that is supposed to preside over OSCE in 2013, is practicing politically motivated selective justice.  This message can even be interpreted has a possible beginning of the procedure to remove Ukraine from this mission.

 And finally, the Senate recommended its government to introduce visa limitations for the persons responsible for the imprisonment and mistreatment of Tymoshenko and other political leaders associated with the Orange Revolution.

 While the resolution was moving through the Congress, several American senators visited Ukraine and met with Yanukovych. Senator Durbin, co-author of the document, was one of them.

 Ukraine's media reported that he discussed with the president of Ukraine the fate of Tymoshenko, selective justice issues and rollbacks of democracy.  It seems that Yanukovych may have given more promises that he failed to keep, hence the speedy and unanimous decision on the resolution.

 Moreover, the circumstances under which the vote took place also deserve attention.  First of all, it was approved a month before the parliamentary election, which the Party of Regions is afraid to lose so much that they are prepared for falsifications. 

 Secondly, Ukraine was recently receiving the president of Poland, which is trying to play the role of communicator between the European Union and Ukraine.

 It's not yet clear what the USA think of this policy of Poland’s, but it's clear and significant that with the approval of the resolution, the United States stands side by side with the European Union in their expression of discontent with the political situation in Ukraine and pushing for the immediate release of Tymoshenko.

 The new thing in the U. S. Senate resolution was the paragraph on possibility of personal sanctions against Ukrainian officials. The situation might deteriorate for them after the approval of the Magnitsky Bill with powers extended beyond the Russian Federation. This bill, apart from visa sanctions, allows for the financial and asset sanctions, too. Such proposals have been going around the Capitol Hill for a long time.

 Also remarkable is the unanimity of senators on this resolution. The procedure in the Senate is such that it could have been blocked by any one of the Senate members. 

 Just before the day of the vote, a high-ranking Ukrainian government delegation visited Washington, which was putting titanic effort to block the document or at least agree on a vote after election in Ukraine.

 But all of this effort crashed against the humanitarian position of each senator which does not depend on their party affiliation. I was utterly impressed by this position of the Senate, and I would like to express personal admiration and gratitude for their devotion to the principles of justice, rule of law and humanism.

 So, what can we now expect from Yanukovych and his government? Unfortunately, the most expected reaction is revenge. First of all, it will be revenge against the person who is now particularly vulnerable yet very dangerous for the regime.

 But the internal and external pressure should one day force the government to start a civilized dialogue, since nobody can hold absolute power forever.

 Ostap Semerak is a lawmaker with the opposition Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine's parliament.

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