The publication of a letter from a dozen academics titled “EU should get tough now with Yanukovych” in the Kyiv Post on June 16 has triggered a lively debate about Western policy towards Ukraine. Taras Kuzio, Lucan Way, Serhiy Kudelia and half-dozen colleagues argue that the West must apply pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych to halt the erosion of democratic freedoms that has taken place since he took office in February 2010. They propose a visa ban on top Ukrainian officials, and a halt to the introduction of a free-trade area with the European Union, unless what they see as the politically inspired trials of former officials such as ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko are dropped.
In response, Alexander Motyl and Adrian Karatnycky have argued that keeping Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit should be the main priority shaping Western policy. They argue that the application of sanctions would merely help Yanukovych consolidate his authoritarian regime and push him even further in the direction of close ties with Russia.
Even though most of the initial letters’ signatories are based in North America, it is interesting that they focus their call for sanctions on the European Union and not the US government. This reflects the perception that nowadays Brussels, not Washington, holds the key to Ukraine.