In Ukraine’s case, the EU and the United States have been jawboning President Viktor Yanukovych to end political persecutions, strengthen democratic institutions and hold clean elections since he came to power in 2010. For the most part, Yanukovych has lost credibility with the West while reinstating an updated version of ex-President Leonid Kuchma’s system of crony capitalism. However, it’s not playing as well in 2013 as it did in 1994 or even 2003. Ukrainians are much more civic-minded and connected to the outside world to stand for the re-imposition of strongman rule.

Still, the outside world can help. The Magnitsky Act that America passed into law is named in honor of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who exposed a $230 million tax fraud by Russian officials only to pay for it with his life, dying in prison in 2009 after being beaten and denied medical treatment. The dictator Vladimir Putin, with his perverse world view, called Magnitsky the criminal and a Russian court is going ahead with trying him posthumously for tax evasion. 

America decided to give itself the option of freezing the bank accounts of Russians directly complicit in the detention or death of Magnitsky and also to deny them visas. This was a stroke of diplomatic genius, since the rich and corrupt in this part of the world don’t even trust their own countries enough to keep their assets at home. Denying them visas to the more civilized West keeps them trapped in the lawless lands they have helped perpetuate. As usual, Putin’s anger over the Magnitsky Act prompted him to retaliate irrationally by punishing Russian orphans.

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