Former US ambassador to Ukraine: ‘The EU and the US have leverage’

(By Deutsche Welle) Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer tells DW that the West should target Ukrainian oligarchs with sanctions. But he also believes only Ukrainians can solve the country’s political crisis.

An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Glazyev, accused the United States last week of not only financing the Ukrainian opposition, but went so far as to say that Washington was arming “rebels.” Is there truth to these claims or is this hyperbole?

The idea that the US government is financing the protests is utter nonsense. There’s no evidence that I have seen of it. And the idea that Mr. Glazyev says it’s providing weapons is also nonsense. If you go back and look at what Mr. Glazyev has said, he’s been the point person in Russia to try and do everything he can to undermine Ukraine’s effort to do the association agreement with the European Union. And he’s said some things in the past that have had very little credibility.

How would you characterize the US relationship with the Ukrainian opposition and the protest movement?

The US government has reached out and has contacts with the opposition, which I think is appropriate for the embassy and for visiting officials to do. I think the US government would like to find a way to encourage the opposition and President Yanukovych to get a meaningful political dialogue underway. That would be the best way out of the current political situation.

In January, Arizona Senator John McCain met with several Ukrainian opposition leaders, including Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who’s made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. What’s Washington’s relationship with the right-wing groups that are participating in the protests?

I think there actually have been conversations with Tyahnybok since his party became a political force. And I know for a fact that the American embassy has been pretty direct with Mr. Tyahnybok and the Svoboda party about some concerns about some things they have said, including handing over several pages of quotes of things that were seen as anti-Semitic and such.

There’s been growing discussion in the EU and US about imposing sanctions against Ukraine. What kind of sanctions are we talking about? Are sanctions really an effective instrument to push Ukraine toward reform?

I do favor targeted sanctions by the United States and the European Union with two objectives. One is to make clear to those who might be involved in the use of force that there will be penalties. But I also believe that sanctions can be used in a positive way and that is to prod people in the inner circle around Yanukovych to encourage him to engage in a real dialogue and attempt to find a solution.

When we talk about Yanukovych’s inner circle are we talking about people in government or people in the business sector?

The people who have the control of levers of force are in government. You want them to know this. But I think also when you’re talking about the inner circle, you’re talking about business people. Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych. I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with President Yanukovych to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution. And if there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever.

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