Some observers have suggested that efforts should be made to peel the major Ukrainian oligarchs away from the Yanukovych regime, thus weakening its financial and political power base and making the regime more amenable to a national round table that would consider the country’s future. Yet the oligarchs, to date, have been far more part of the problem than components of any possible solution. One, Victor Pinchuk, is a major beneficiary of the new economic deals that Yanukovych has made with Putin’s Russia. (Or do we now say, simply, Putin, he being Russia?) Another, Dmytro Firtash, has let his communications empire become a virtual mouthpiece for the Yanukovych regime in recent weeks, although his media outlets honestly reported the early weeks of the EuroMaidan movement. But the spin today on the television outlets Firtash controls is one reason that the south and east of Ukraine are not being informed of what is really going on in the rest of the country. The oligarchs would have to make real sacrifices to be part of any coalition capable of wrestling Yanukovych to a serious national round table, and there is little public evidence to date that they are willing to take those risks and make those sacrifices; if that could change, so might much else.
Given the chaos on the streets of a European capital and the risk that the chaos will explode into a bloodbath, some have also suggested that the U.N. Security Council be called into session to propose international mediation and appoint a distinguished mediator or mediators, who would go to Ukraine and try to assemble a round table involving all interested parties. But foreign minister Lavrov’s recent statements — hinting as they do at a Russian interest in letting things boil over to the point where Russian “aid” would be welcomed as a calming presence — suggest that the Russians would quickly deploy their veto to squash any serious effort at mediation by the Security Council.
Which leaves the United States and the European Union; which leaves, in reality, the United States.
Throughout this past weekend, Americans supportive of the Ukrainian democracy movement kept receiving e-mails from what had become the violent front lines in Kiev, pleading with us to “Call the White House!” Yet, as of mid-Tuesday afternoon, the most that has come out of the White House has been a (reasonably strong) January 19 statement from National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden, expressing “deep concern” over the violence in Kiev, blaming the “increasing tension” on the Ukrainian regime’s failure to “acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people,” and concluding that “the U.S. will continue to consider additional steps — including sanctions — in response to the use of violence” by the Yanukovych government. But surely the time has come for the administration, working with those congressional leaders who have already demonstrated support for Ukraine’s civic-renewal movement, to stop “continuing to consider” and to take specific steps to address this explosive situation.
Define precisely, and now, what sanctions the U.S. will impose if the Black Thursday laws are not immediately suspended. Appoint a bipartisan team of special envoys to go to Kiev with the mission of bringing Yanukovych and the reform leaders together to discuss the most immediately achievable of the opposition’s demands: stringent electoral reform, repeal of the Black Thursday laws, and a new cabinet of competent technocrats. A firm, unequivocal statement of support for the Ukrainian civic-reform movement is also long overdue from the Oval Office and could, combined with effective work by the bipartisan envoys, lay the foundation for serious international mediation leading to a national round table.
A longtime observer of the Ukrainian scene said to me today, more in sorrow than in anger, that “people who are facing despair and death tend to see clearly who their friends are.” Those people, in Ukraine, know that they have friends in the American NGO community, who have been making every effort to support them. But they do not know that of the president of the United States and his secretary of state. And it is staggering and shameful that they do not.
— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.