Author: Thomas C. Theiner
In the coming days, with the wrapping up of the Sochi Games, the fate of Ukraine will be decided. It will not be decided at a roundtable, or in the Verkhovna Rada, not in Brussels, not in Moscow, not in Washington, but on the barricades on Hrushevsky Street. There, and everywhere else, Ukrainians have risen up against a corrupt regime. Ukrainians will stand their ground and fight for a better future or die in the streets. If the regime crushes the people, darkness will descend on all countries of the former Soviet Union; if the people drive the regime out of Kyiv, civil war and Russian intervention could plunge Ukraine into a lost decade.
A victorious regime will only be able to control the Western and Central parts of Ukraine through massive oppression and unlimited Russian military and financial support. Millions will likely try to flee from the ensuing violence to the European Union, while hundreds of thousands will fight back. Years of bloody guerrilla war will continue directly on the border of the European Union. Meanwhile the Russian regime, emboldened by its success in subjugating Ukraine, will likely turn its attention to subjugating Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Central Asia, and, eventually, the Baltic States. Fearful of a repeat of the Ukrainian Maidan on its territory, the Russian regime will likely brutally tighten the screws on its own population.
If the people of Ukraine succeed in liberating their country from the mafia clan that has plundered it, Russia will stoke civil unrest in the southeastern regions and on the Crimean peninsula and will use the ensuing civil strife as a pretext to invade these regions. The occupation of these territories will allow Russia to stymie all Ukrainian attempts at developing the country, just as Russia uses Abkhazia and South Ossetia to hamper Georgia and Transnistria to hamper Moldova. Only Ukrainians will never accept such an occupation and years of armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine are likely to follow.
Neither of the two scenarios above is desirable, whether for Ukrainians, the EU, the US, or Russia. But the abysmal lack of understanding of the underlying reasons for the current conflict exhibited time and again by EU leaders and their cowardly lack of will to act make these two scenarios the most likely ones to happen. This indecisiveness will make the current EU leadership as guilty as Vladimir Putin for every human life lost in Ukraine.
The key points EU leaders fail to understand are:
- The Euromaidan movement is primarily neither a pro-EU, nor an anti-Russia movement, but an uprising against the Ukrainian mafia. Yanukovych, besides leading the government, also leads a very real mafia clan. The level of corruption, extortion, blackmail, theft, and graft in Ukraine is beyond the imagination of all European politicians. Not one of them can comprehend that the headquarters of the Ukrainian mafia are inside the presidential administration, whose sole purpose is to coordinate theft and extortion. The police, the secret service, the entire judiciary, the central bank, all ministries, regional administrations, and the tax authorities are actively employed by Yanukovych, his family and associates, to rob the country and its citizens blind. Every member of the Party of the Regions is part of this mafia machine. Euromaidan is an uprising by the people of Ukraine against this mafia. EU leaders need to understand that Euromaidan is akin to the people of Naples rising up against the Camorra. And as the people of Naples would get the EU’s full support in such an uprising, the Ukrainian uprising today deserves our full support.
- Russia is not a partner, but a regime based on graft, which is hell-bent on its own survival. Positive change in any neighboring country is anathema to this regime and it will always undermine any democratic reforms in each and every country of the former Soviet Union. EU leaders need to understand that, whatever they do to defuse the situation in Ukraine and advance democratic reforms in the former Soviet Union, Russia will undermine their efforts at every turn.
- Yanukovych is politically dead. Putin knows it, Obama knows it, Yanukovych’s inner circle knows it. It is high time EU leaders too cast Yanukovych aside and began to work on a solution without him and his gang. Every time EU politicians talk about negotiating with him, they subvert and destroy democracy in Ukraine. Governments do not negotiate with terrorists; governments ought not to negotiate with mafia leaders, either.
There are just a few days left for the EU to understand these realities and adapt its policy accordingly. Failure to do so will leave Yanukovych in power—with the sole option of using force to preserve his position. Yanukovych must be cast aside before the Sochi Games end to avoid these two scenarios.
Let me repeat this, so no one can later say they did not know about what would happen to Ukraine and Europe if Yanukovych was not cast aside in time: an attack on Euromaidan will inevitably lead to civil war, or war and thousands of deaths, millions of refugees and the destabilization of Central Europe. And this war will spread to Western Europe: it will be fought in Ukraine, in Vienna, in London, in Cannes, in Munich, in St. Moritz, in Courchevel and everywhere else where Russian and Ukrainian power elites have established their companies and their luxury homes.
Only the European Union can defuse this crisis. And the European Union must act now! If it cannot muster the courage to act decisively now, the European project is dead. All that is required is that the EU issue a single statement. That’s all! The EU does not need to enact sanctions right now, it does not need to revoke visas today, but it must issue a statement declaring:
- A clear threat that sanctions will be enacted immediately if the government attempts to disperse Euromaidan by force.
- A list of the persons who will be affected, namely every MP from Party of the Regions and the Communist Party of Ukraine, all Members of Government, all officials working in the presidential administration, governors and mayors who used police and criminals to disperse demonstrations, the oligarchs who back the regime, the judges of the high courts, and the enforcement officers involved in any crackdown.
- A note that Dmytro Firtash and Rinat Akhmetov are on the sanctions list.
- A list of the sanctions the EU will apply:
- All people on the list and their relatives in the first degree will be denied entry to the entire EU territory. All existing visas will be revoked. Family members in the first degree that are currently in the EU will be given 24 hours to exit the EU.
- All assets of the people on the list and their relatives in the first degree and their companies in the EU will be frozen.
- EU companies will be forbidden to engage in any kind of business with the people on the list and their relatives in the first degree.
- Similar sanctions against all government entities and state-owned corporations of Ukraine will be enacted at the same time.
As soon as the EU issues such a statement all probability of a bloody confrontation in Ukraine will disappear. Even if Viktor Yanukovych does order the use of force, no one in the entire Ukrainian government structure will be willing to execute such an order. On the contrary, everyone in the current Ukrainian government and legislature will do everything they can to get rid of Yanukovych as quickly as possible.
But as long as the EU does not issue such a statement, there is no incentive for the people in the outer circles of power to actively pursue a peaceful solution to the crisis. At this stage, the only threat to their wealth is Yanukovych and the state apparatus at his disposal that can go after them, their assets and families. However the threat of losing access to the EU, where most of these people have stashed away their stolen wealth and invested their blood money, is a much bigger threat than any Yanukovych could conjure up. So, they will cast Viktor Yanukovych aside instantly in favor of a compromise and a peaceful solution.
The EU and every head of government in this Union must work for a peaceful solution in Ukraine. This kind of firm statement is the key to a peaceful solution in Ukraine. Failure to make it will reveal the EU’s inability to act when the lives of millions are at stake. Failure to issue such a statement will lead to war on the EU’s doorstep and will bring this war to the very heart of the Union.
There are at least 2 million Ukrainian immigrants in the EU and there are thousands of houses and offices in the EU owned by the Ukrainian and Russian elite and their European business partners. Each and every single one of these houses and offices and the people within will be legitimate targets for the Ukrainian resistance. If just 0.1% of Ukrainian immigrants join the resistance in the EU, that will make at least 2,000 men and women who are prepared to attack the regime’s members, their families and their business partners. Blood will be spilled in the EU and it will not end for years. And the countries that have profited the most from the regime’s dirty money will be the ones experiencing the highest number of attacks.
Thanks to the Ukrainian elite’s habit of laundering all their money via Cyprus and Austria and then investing it in the EU, the EU has the power to stop the violence in Ukraine with the simple threat of denying these Ukrainians access to their wealth and a safe haven for their families. Failure to act now will lead to rivers of blood in Ukraine. Failure to act now will lead to blood being shed all over the European Union. AND RIGHTLY SO!
Thomas Theiner is a writer and production manager. He has previously lived in Kyiv for 5 years and worked at a subsidiary of Ukraine’s biggest film company.