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24 August 2017
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Steven Pifer: US and EU should minimize high-level contact with Yanukovych

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer...

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer has advised the U.S. to limit contact with the Ukrainian leadership and to compile a list of individuals responsible for the persecution for former government officials to impose visa sanctions, according to the Official web site of Yulia Tymoshenko.

"The U.S. government should continue what appears to be a de facto policy of minimizing high-level meetings with Mr. Yanukovych. U.S. officials should inform Ukrainian officials that, as long as Kyiv imprisons opposition leaders and regresses on democracy, no meetings at the highest level will be possible," Steven Pifer said in his testimony at the Feb. 1 U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ukraine.

However, he said this approach does not mean freezing all ties with Ukraine. "Normal diplomatic interaction should continue at most levels. The target should be the most senior leadership in Kyiv, those who are responsible for Ukraine’s democratic regression," he said.

Steven Pifer also stressed that the U.S. government should carefully consider its priorities for assistance programs, as budget resources for Ukraine will be limited. "U.S. assistance should aim to sustain civil society in Ukraine, which has made dramatic gains over the past 20 years," he said.

"It may be time for U.S. and EU officials to consult as to whether it is appropriate to consider lists of Ukrainian individuals who would be denied visas to visit the United States and EU member states. Even the threat of this could send a forceful message to Kyiv and have a powerful effect on President Yanukovych and the elite around him," he believes.

The former ambassador also informed the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that soon after Yanukovych was elected president, questions arose over his government’s commitment to democratic principles and practices. "Over the course of 2010 and 2011, concern grew about the government’s authoritarian tendencies," he said, recalling the Constitutional Court’s decision to invalidate the changes to the constitution approved by the Verkhovna Rada in December 2004, flaws in the nationwide local elections in 2010, and the arrest of former officials who served in the cabinet under Yulia Tymoshenko on charges that appear, to most observers, to be politically motivated.

Steven Pifer also noted that in 2011 Ukraine became the first post-Soviet state to lose the "free" ranking when it was found to be only "partly free" by Freedom House.

"The authoritarian tendencies within Ukraine have affected Kyiv’s relations with the West. European and U.S. officials have long expressed concern about democratic regression, including warning senior Ukrainian officials as early as January 2011 not to carry forward the charges against Ms. Tymoshenko, whose case has come to epitomize the problem of selective application of the law within Ukraine," he said.

"Democratic regression most destructively sets back the ability of the Ukrainian people to have a free, fair, robust and competitive political system. It also has a destructive impact on Mr. Yanukovych’s professed foreign policy. Democratic backsliding puts at risk Ukraine’s relations with the West, in particular with the European Union. As the EU President has indicated, the European Union does not intend to proceed with signature of the association agreement and FTA until political circumstances within Ukraine change," he said.

"Mr. Yanukovych may also calculate that the European Union and the United States will overlook his democratic regression and accept Ukraine without his having to adjust his domestic policies, believing that the West does not want to see Ukraine drift closer to Moscow’s orbit. That would reflect a fair measure of wishful thinking and overestimate the geopolitical importance that the West currently attaches to Ukraine," he concluded.

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