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'Sanction Yanukovych'

Bernd Johann / reDecember 13, 2013

DW's Bernd Johann thinks that diplomatic efforts alone will not prevent more violence against the anti-government protest movement in Ukraine.

DW's Bernd Johann
Image: DW/P. Henriksen

Finally, international pressure on the Ukrainian government is increasing. To stop the violence in the country, Europe should follow the US example and put sanctions against Yanukovych and his cohorts on the agenda. It is high time. Yanukovych has been leading his countrymen and the European Union around by the nose for far too long. And far too often, peaceful demonstrators have been the victims of police brutality.

For the moment, sanctions are only one option, but it is important that they are on the agenda because they could directly hit Yanukovych and his surroundings. These people have financial and economic interests in Europe and the US and they like to travel there. It should be made clear that if peaceful demonstrators get hurt again, sanctions are unavailable. A travel ban for civil servants, involved in the suppression of the protest movement, should be among the restrictions. And let us make sure that their foreign bank accounts can be blocked.

Europe cannot accept more violence

What an impudence it was when on the night to December 11, Catherine Ashton – the EU foreign policy chief and US Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, were mediating, and special forces wanted to storm Kyiv's Independence Square and shortly afterwards the same special unit wanted to clear the occupied city council building.

Ukrainian's rulers cynically and arrogantly ignore what is going on around them. For weeks, hundreds of thousands have been protesting against them. They have been demonstrating in support of a European perspective for their country. They want a change to the power structures in their country. In recent years, the opposition has literally been pushed up againstg the wall. Yulia Tymoshenko's case is just the most prominent example. And now, the state is investigating opposition leaders, which are accused of attempting a coup.

Following the police intervention of the last couple of weeks, dozens of people are still in the hospital. They stood for the democratic right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. But after their hospital stay they can expect to be imprisoned. Criminal charges against them have been filed. Europe cannot accept this.

The consequences need to be demonstrated

The EU, therefore, must consider implementing sanctions. The threat of sanctions is language, which Yanukovych understands. Diplomatic efforts alone do not impress him. In recent weeks, he shamelessly maneuvered and tested how far he can go. If the US and the EU were to threaten sanctions, Yanukavych would understand what the consequences are.

It is understandable that the opposition is skeptical about Yanukovych's offer for dialogue. His statements have been very vague. It is quite possible that Yanukovych is playing for time; time he needs to mobilize his supporters for counter rallies in Kyiv; time he might use to dissolve the protests on the Maidan, Kyiv's central square.

You cannot trust Yanukovych

Europe should remain skeptical when Yanukovych begins talking again about the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU. Three weeks ago, he blew off the agreement, triggering the wave of protests. Next week, talks again are scheduled with Moscow on even closer ties with Russia. President Yanukovych continues to play off the EU against Russia.

Ukraine's crisis can only be solved at the political level. Right now, it is hard to see Yanukovych willing to make serious concessions to the protesters. Therefore, it is still possible that more violent police operations against the protesters will take place. The threat of sanction could keep Yanukovych from doing that. Diplomatic efforts will not be enough.