US, Russia maneuver to influence Ukraine’s political future

(By Deutsche Welle) With the US Congress reportedly preparing sanctions against Ukrainian leaders, Moscow has warned Washington to get out of the crisis in Kyiv. Has Ukraine become a proxy battleground between Russia and the West?

As the political crisis in Ukraine has escalated, EU and US efforts to support the opposition have gathered momentum. Washington is reportedly putting together a package of diplomatic carrots and sticks. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has said that Kyiv could receive US aid money, but only after it has implemented political reforms.

Meanwhile, the US Congress and the White House are reportedly discussing targeted financial sanctions against the Ukrainian public figures allegedly responsible for violence. In a resolution which passed in a 381-2 vote, the House of Representatives on Monday expressed support for the “democratic wishes of the people” in Ukraine.

According to Steven Pifer, former US ambassador to Ukraine, sanctions should also target President Viktor Yanukovych’s inner-circle, which includes government officials and business people.

“Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych,” Pifer told DW. “I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with the president to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution.

“If there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever,” he said.

So far, the EU has been reluctant to impose sanctions out of concern that punitive measures will only push Yanukovych further toward Moscow. In neighboring Belarus, for example, Western sanctions have done little to persuade strongman Alexander Lukashenko to reform his authoritarian regime.

But Andrew Wilson, an expert on Ukraine with the European Council on Foreign Relations, disagrees with the analogy.

“There aren’t oligarchs in the same sense. You have a much more personal presidential system [in Belarus],” Wilson said. “Whereas in Ukraine you do have oligarchs, and you can hurt their interests.”

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