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Western sanctions may be coming soon

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July 12, 2012, 9:51 p.m. | Op-ed — by Ostap Semerak

Ostap Semerak is an opposition lawmaker in Ukraine's parliament
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Ostap Semerak writes: Some of Ukraine's leaders could face visa bans to the U.S. and have their dollar assets frozen.

A former judge transfers a lump sum from one of his hard currency accounts to another. But the money does not get to its destination because it was held due to sanctions imposed by the U.S. authorities.

This seems like a surreal scenario. But it may not be for long. Very soon, such sanctions might become reality for people like the general prosecutor, judges and many others – including “The Family” led by President Viktor Yanukovych and his relatives.

Such punitive sanctions could become a reality after the approval by the U.S. congress of a draft law that envisages visa, financial and property sanctions against abusers of human rights, oppressors of democracy and corrupt officials in various countries.

The law is commonly referred to as the Magnitsky bill. Two of its early versions, which have been debated widely in the world, were approved by foreign affairs committees of both chambers of the Congress.

The difference between the two documents was that the Senate suggested applying the law to Russian officials only, while the House of Representatives wants to make it applicable to the powerful human rights abusers across the world.

After a long debate, they agreed to a compromise: to make it applicable to 56 member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The other novelty of the consolidated draft is that it won’t contain the surnames of people who will face sanctions (the so-called Magnitsky list), but the criteria by which this list is created by U.S. officials.

These criteria are based on observation of human rights, democracy and rule of law, which are the common values for OSCE countries, and which are the basis for the statutory documents of this organization.

A few days ago I had a range of meetings in Washington with a number of politicians who represent the legislative and the executive branches of power in the United States. From what I heard, I came to two conclusions.

Firstly, it seems that the law which has been under debate for such a long time, is about to be approved. It can happen as early as this month.

Secondly, the high officials on the hills of Kyiv and their lesser subordinates can become targets for application of the American sanctions. There are plenty of reasons for doing this. The world has been watching as a group of people establishes an authoritarian regime in Ukraine, twisting the arms of political opponents and brazenly stomping on democratic values, while robbing their own country at the same time.

We have been hearing increasingly louder voices from the international community: presidents and prime ministers, parliament members and the Council of Europe, NATO and OSCE. But it seems that it’s impossible to reason with the Ukrainian authorities, and thus the word “sanctions” has been sounded increasingly more often.

The freshest signal came from the U.S.-based Freedom House. While presenting its report entitled “Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine,” its president, David Kramer,  said that the West is debating sanctions against Ukrainian authorities and that the US will most likely introduce such sanctions so they become an alarm bell for the highest officials in power that the nation is going down the wrong path.

The actual text of the Freedom House report also points out that the words “Ukraine” and “sanctions” sound together more and more often, which reflects the level of disappointment of Western officials with the fact that Yanukovych does not seem to want to hear their arguments.

Freedom House points out that Ukraine has “persecution of the opposition, falsification of elections and pressure on civil society” and warns the Ukrainian authorities about the aforementioned draft law in the American Congress. 

Despite the fact that Freedom House has official status as a non-governmental organization, it has a close relationship with the government, particularly the U.S. State Department.

The NGO status allows it to talk more freely and openly than government officials allow themselves to do. So Yanukovych and his subordinates should be listening to the voice of Freedom House, which might turn out to be the last warning coming from the U.S. government.

If they fail to do so, in not too far a future out officials will have a good chance of joining the ranks of top officials from Belarus, Russian officials from the Magnitsky list, and some Asian dictators.

They will be banned from traveling to USA, from using their bank accounts, villas, companies and other property on the territory of the United States that belongs to them, their relatives or business partners. The money passing though correspondent accounts in US banks will also be frozen.

I have reason to believe that this can become a reality in autumn of this year, possibly immediately after the Oct. 28 parliamentary election. 

It’s worth expecting that the U.S. initiative will soon be supported by the European Union, which basically means isolation from the Western world. Yanukovych would have to comfort himself with the friendship of the Altai shamans and communist friends from China.  

To make the picture complete, one last point needs to be made that was accentuated during the meetings in Washington: the sanctions will not be against Ukraine as a state or against its people, but against certain individuals, such as the father of authoritarianism and lawlessness and their zealous accomplices and executors.

Ostap Semerak is an opposition lawmaker in Ukraine's parliament.

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