Sunday, 7 October 2012
Banning Visa For Ukrainian Officials? Not Yet
NEW YORK, USA -- This week the US senate passed a resolution calling for the release of former Ukrainian prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Almost simultaneously, the Ukrainian government delegation came to Washington to encourage American capital to invest in Ukraine, while Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych promised “the new impetus” to Ukraine-USA relationship, attending the opening of the 67th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. How does this all fit together and what can this possibly mean? The US Senate’s resolution, introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe, was the natural result of discussions over Yulia Tymoshenko’s case over the past year. The former prime minister – the leader of the opposition and the only serious opponent to the current government – is serving a seven-year prison term for abuse of office stemming from gas contract negotiations with Russia. The senate’s resolution also calls for a visa ban against President Yanukovych and others responsible for Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, declaring their actions anti-democratic. According to Interfax-Ukraine’s interview with Executive Director of the American Institute in Ukraine, Anthony T. Salvia, this resolution is not an exceptional case – it is not obligatory and it does not oblige the Senate to take any action—it’s just an expression of the opinion of those people that lobbied for it in the senate. However, the western world is concerned about Tymoshenko’s situation and see it as politically motivated. Ukrainian officials look at it as a matter of violating the law, and deny political motivation. The question of Ukraine’s overall strategy – whether it’s adopted a course in line with European values and is committed to the idea of a democratic society – has been only vaguely addressed by Ukraine’s government. They don’t seem to see a big problem with their actions. Ukraine’s government’s position is that it is working on reforms and improving the economy, and the country offers good investment opportunities—which is separate issue from democratic values and human rights. “Investors coming to Ukraine should feel themselves comfortable,” said Ukraine’s Economic Development Minister, Poroshenko, at the annual Yalta European Strategy summit on September 14th. However, according to Mario David of the European Parliament, there were companies that wanted to invest over $1 billion in Ukraine but decided to do business elsewhere as they were scared off by what they perceive to be a lack of the rule of law. “The government that doesn’t not accept the opposition, and only oppresses it, is not open and it can’t help its people,” said Hryhoriy Nemyrya, former Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, now Deputy Head of Tymoshenko’s party, “Batkivshchyna,” in an interview with Forbes. According to Interfax-Ukraine, during the reception at the General Assembly of the United Nations, Barack Obama and Yanukovych had exchanged some remarks on the subject of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and in his UN speech Yanukovych promised to strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine. What could this mean? The resolution might not be as threatening as it appears. American leaders are still willing to sustain diplomatic relations with Ukraine. If Yanukovych plays his hand deftly, Ukraine could avoid the destiny of Belarus and might still be accepted by the West. The democratic world expects Ukraine to have a transparent and honest parliamentary election on October 28. Ukraine’s expected to support the freedom of speech and human rights. Which, officially, it is willing to do. Unfortunately, the case of Yulia Tymoshenko – the elephant in the room – is still there. It’s unclear how Yanukovych’s government plans to handle the situation now, but the sooner he does it, the better. Otherwise, for his next possible visit to the US he may not be able to get his visa, should the ban proposed by the U.S. senate go in effect.