Opinion: High time for sanctions in Ukraine | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.02.2014
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Opinion: High time for sanctions in Ukraine

The EU must react to the horrifying situation in Ukraine with sanctions against those responsible for the violence, writes DW's Bernd Johann.

The protests in Ukraine that started so peacefully and in such a "European" style three months ago threaten to turn into a nightmare. Ukraine may not be Syria, but who is now prepared to exclude the possibility that this conflict may turn into a civil war? The scenes playing out in the Ukrainian capital are horrifying, with civil war-like conditions emerging in Europe. And they are not just a threat to Ukraine - there's a lot at stake for the rest of the continent too.

The months of protest have radicalized all of the parties to the conflict, but the main responsibility for the escalation lies with President Viktor Yanukovych. He has refused any dialogue with the protest movement and has only played for time. Now he watches from his palace in Kyiv as the blood flows as a result of his power politics.

Merciless battle

The treatment of protesters has been drastically toughened: whoever speaks up against the Yanukovych system is seen by the government as supporting its overthrow. It speaks cynically of the "anti-terrorist measures" it has to take. But the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrated for democratic reforms and new elections in Kyiv and other towns were just normal citizens.

It's against these people that the government is now waging battle, without mercy and without rules. Police throw incendiary devices into the crowds from the roofs of buildings; gangs of thugs and provocateurs hunt down peaceful demonstrators; people are kidnapped and maltreated - and the authorities and the justice system just look on. These crimes are evidently tolerated by the authorities.

Diplomacy is getting nowhere

Germany and Europe can't just let such things happen without responding. They've allowed themselves to be strung along by the Kyiv leadership for far too long. European politicians have been trying to get Yanukovych to commit to a dialogue for months. But the diplomacy will get nowhere if the regime refuses to consider a political solution.

It's high time for Europe to impose sanctions against Ukrainian politicians and officials who are responsible for the violence. There must be travel bans to the EU and their EU bank accounts must be frozen. Nobody wants them in Europe any more.

Poison for EU-Russian relations

Relations with Russia will also have to be reconsidered. The escalation in Ukraine has put the relationship under severe strain. Russia accuses the West of interference and blames Europe for the violence. Those are outrageous accusations, which lack any basis in fact.

It is Russia rather than the EU which has been actively interfering in Ukraine. It stood out that Moscow announced billions of euros of aid to Ukraine just before the police moved in. Moscow was clearly shoring up Yanukovych's position.

Moscow also shows its support for the Ukrainian president when it describes pro-European demonstrators as terrorists planning a coup. Such language makes it clear that Russia approves of the violent measures taken to put down the protests. And that is poison for relations between Russia and the EU.

Bernd Johann is head of DW's Ukrainian service.

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