It is time for the US to support the protest movement in Ukraine and target sanctions at anti-democratic officials.
When awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study or conduct research, we were encouraged to become ambassadors of our respective countries while sharing our culture and values with our host country. The experience of being Ukrainian in the U.S. and an American in Ukraine gave us pride and perspective on our home and home-away-from-home. We completed our fellowships and while some of us returned home, we feel our mission is far from complete. When Ukraine’s diplomatic corps and servile state media continue to obediently follow the regime as it terrorizes its own citizens, we cannot calmly watch as Ukraine becomes a dictatorship any longer.
While few could have foreseen the current situation a few months ago, the prospect of signing a free trade agreement with the EU has become the greatest unifying goal of Ukrainians since the Independence in 1991. Not even the Orange Revolution could boast such a popular, diverse, and large-scale uprising. Most Ukrainians are poor and have limited opportunities for social mobility. For many, association with the EU represents the only available path toward normalcy and decent living standards. Needless to say, disillusionment was stark when the government failed to live up to its months-long promises to sign the agreement; it became even more pronounced after the perpetrators of student beatings were identified, but not punished. The fatal phase has occurred after violent riots broke out on January 19 following adoption of a set of draconian laws (repealed on Jan. 31); 20 out of 25 regions, including eastern and southern Ukraine, joined the struggle against the attempt to bring the country back to Stalinist 1937. Started as a pro-EU demonstration the protests have evolved into a movement for basic constitutional rights and an ultimate ‘reset’ of the entire political system.
Last month, at least three activists were shot by gunfire amid street riots. One was murdered in the forests outside Kyiv, while two prominent activists were abducted and severely tortured but found alive. Unsurprisingly, none of the perpetrators have been found, instead the police are actively hunting witches. Around two hundred “extremists” from several Ukrainian cities, who are typically peaceful protestors, have been jailed and many of them, reportedly, beaten up by the police. Hundreds of protesters around the country continue to be wounded by titushki—armed thugs hired by the government. Thirty-four protesters have been missing to date. The most Orwellian scenes were set when the injured taken to the hospitals have been detained or kidnapped by the police from their patient rooms. With no treatment and no presumption of innocence, it appears that Ukraine’s law enforcement is rushing to execute their “five-year plans.”
Up to the moment when the escalation unfolded, the response from the U.S. Department of State has comprised exclusively of declarations of verbal support for the people of Ukraine and threats of sanctions. The U.S. Senate has been more vocal by introducing a draft resolution following the model of the Magnitsky Act led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). Ukrainian opposition members, Ukrainian diaspora, the academic community, and opinion leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have made numerous appeals to the U.S. leadership to help resolve the current political crisis in lieu of the faiblesse of Ukraine’s opposition with its imprisoned leader Yulia Tymoshenko. While many Americans have shown solidarity with the cause by participating in the demonstrations and signing petitions to the White House (the one calling for sanctions against Yanukovych received 100,000 signatures in only four days), it seems that U.S. government should support its statements with more action.
While we believe that soft power is important “to win hearts and minds,” considering the grave situation in which the Ukrainian state finds itself, only the application of hard power can yield the needed results: the targeted financial sanctions against Ukrainian officials are expected to suppress their appetite for anti-democratic measures and bring Ukraine’s leadership back to the negotiation table. The US government can be saluted for imposing travel bans against Ukrainian officials, but when the bloody terror is unfolding in the center of Europe their benefit is rather limited. Moreover, as it recently turned out, the travel bans did not hurt [ua] the key regime supporters who were able to enter the U.S. for the Annual Prayer Breakfast with Obama.
In the application of hard power, the U.S. should follow the example of Austria, which has recently launched investigations against MPs Andriy and Sergiy Klyuyuev, close associates of the Yanukovych Family, who abused office by growing their businesses with the help of Ukrainian budget money. U.S. anti-corruption laws, including the U.S. Patriot Act, allow for the start of investigations of the origin of assets which may belong to Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) and which are served by the banks in the U.S. Direct and indirect use of U.S. financial and corporate systems is a pet peeve of Yanukovych, his close family members, and close associates of the regime, such as billionaires Rinat Akhmetov and Dmytro Firtash. Immediate launch of anti-money laundering investigations and freeze of accounts is what Ukrainians all over the world are calling for. Moreover, the U.S. has the power to influence the decision makers of the EU (especially, the UK) who have allowed their states to become a safe harbor for the East European oligarchs sponsoring brutal regimes.
We believe that the U.S. should go beyond its mere rhetoric in support of Ukraine’s protest movement and the opposition leaders and should substantiate its adherence to Western democratic and free market values, in the way it expects us Fulbrighters to act upon our values as ambassadors of our countries. The U.S. and the EU should act decisively and in tandem; for, the bloody terror is happening in Europe’s largest country and its smell is much stronger than dirty money.
The opinions and views expressed in this Op-Ed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Fulbright Program, any affiliated institutions or other alumni.
On behalf of
Bohdan Dmukhovskyy, Fulbright Program Alumnus, 2010-2011
Kaley Hanenkrat, Fulbright Program Alumna 2011-2012
Olesya Kravchuk, Fulbright Program Alumna, 2009-2011
Yuliya Mikhed, Fulbright Program Alumna, 2009-2012
Vitalii Moroz, Fulbright Program Student, 2012-2014
Yevhen Shulha, Fulbright Program Student, 2013-2015
Terrell Jermaine Starr, Fulbright Program Alumnus 2009-2010
Andriy Zinchuk, Muskie Program Student, 2012-2014
Evhenia Viatchaninova, Fulbright Program Alumna 2011-2013
photo credit: Evhenia Viatchaninova