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Boosting the price of aggression. Ukraine updates its sanctions policy against Russia

Illustrative photo. Open source
Boosting the price of aggression. Ukraine updates its sanctions policy against Russia
The Kremlin does not intend to abandon its aggressive policy toward Ukraine, the West and civil society. This is evidenced by the continuing aggression against Ukraine, as well as the occupation of Crimea and some territories of the Donbas, regular interference in electoral processes in democratic countries, cybercrimes, and the use of chemical weapons and assassinations in other countries (poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, assassination of Chechen Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in downtown Berlin). Recently, the German government confirmed that Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny was poisoned by novichok.

All the aforementioned events constitute a good reason for Ukraine to hold serious discussions with its western partners about the need for more decisive action against Russia. It is not only a matter of continuing the current sanctions, but also of imposing new personal sanctions on Russian officials involved in systemic human rights violations; identifying new sectors of the Russian economy to include in the sanctions list; imposing restrictions on Russian aircraft flying into sanctioned airports, and vessels calling at port facilities in occupied Crimea, and finally, encouraging Germany to abandon the Nord Stream-2 project.

Sanctions are imposed not for the sake of sanctions, but to discourage the offender (in this case the Russian Federation) from engaging in destructive activities. If this fails, then there is no other option but to increase political pressure and strengthen sanctions.

Illustrative photo. Open source

How effective are sanctions against Russia?

For Ukrainian society, the notion of “sanctions” has become as integral a part of its language of foreign policy as such phrases as “note of protest” or “deep concern”, which Ukrainians have become accustomed to since the start of Russian aggression and the occupation of Crimea and the Donbas.

However, when Ukraine’s European and North American partners imposed a series of personal and sectoral sanctions in response to Russian aggression, it appeared that Ukraine had neither a legal basis nor regulations for such sanctions. It was only on September 14, 2014 that the law “On Sanctions” came into force in Ukraine. The Law, which was drafted by the Cabinet of Ministers in almost one day and approved by the Verkhovna Rada, provided a mechanism for reacting to existing and potential threats to the national interests and security of Ukraine, and enabled Ukraine to join the combined efforts of the international community.

From the very beginning of Russia’s aggression, Ukrainian diplomats worked with their western partners to form an international coalition to counter the aggressor. As the West was not willing to fulfill its obligations on security assurances (see the Budapest Memorandum of December 5, 1994) and provide military support to Ukraine, both parties (Ukraine and the West) were able to agree on the main elements of international policy to support Ukraine in the fight against Russia: non-recognition of the occupation and annexation of Crimea, international isolation of Russia, provision of resources and weapons to Ukraine, and a coordinated sanctions policy.  

It was this sanctions policy that ultimately became a significant and perhaps the only effective lever for deterring Russia from further hostile actions. International sanctions are aimed at raising the price that Russia must pay for its aggression against Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea and part of the Donbas, and in the long run, force Russia to leave Crimea and ultimately help restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders.

Through its sanctions policy, the international community has put Russia on a par with such pariah states and totalitarian regimes as North Korea, Venezuela or Syria, against which most western countries have imposed strong sanctions. According to different evaluations, Russia’s losses due to global restrictions amount to more than $160 billion US. The Kremlin has failed to fully integrate occupied Crimea into its national economy: the Russian-occupied peninsula is under a de facto commercial, financial and transport blockade, and the cost of maintaining the infrastructure of the occupied territories is gradually depleting the Russian budget.

Moreover, the impact of sectoral sanctions will probably be felt in 8-10 years. Therefore, in the medium term, due to imposed sanctions in thye technological field, Russia’s scientific, research and development capacities will lag significantly behind the world leaders.

Five key elements of Ukraine’s sanctions policy

This year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba created a special position called “Special Representative for Sanctions Policy”. The Special Representative will be charged with working in two dimensions – internal and external.

At the internal level, the Special Representative will be responsible for drawing up an inventory of sanctions regimes in which Ukraine participates, coordinating the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and interacting with ministries and departments, the Verkhovna Rada and the public in order to improve Ukrainian sanctions legislation.

At the external level, the Special Representative will be responsible for harmonizing Ukraine’s sanctions policy with the policies of Ukraine’s major foreign partners, and cooperating with them in order to extend and strengthen sanctions against Russia.

In recent months, in conjunction with ministries and departments, the Verkhovna Rada and civil society, the MofFA has collected key proposals to codify Ukraine’s sanctions legislation, and if this proposal is supported by the executive and legislative branches, it is planned to launch a separate government structure to coordinate a national sanctions policy.

In order for the sanctions to be effective, some clear algorithms must first be developed – introduction of sanctions, compliance with mandatory UN Security Council sanctions, and implementation of EU sanctions into national legislation.

Second, it is planned to develop a system for monitoring the effectiveness of sanctions, which will add an important analytical component to the decision-making process and allow for prompt improvement of existing sanctions.

Third, proposals have already been prepared to amend the Administrative and Criminal Codes, which will provide for administrative or criminal liability of legal and natural persons who violate sanctions regimes.

Fourth, an open register of sanctions will be created; here, state authorities, as well as Ukrainian and foreign companies will be able to check whether their potential counterparty is under international or Ukrainian sanctions.

Oleh Sentsov, former POW released from Russian captivity in September, 2019. Photo: open source

Fifth: seeing that Ukraine has considerable experience in negotiating for the release of political prisoners from Russian captivity, Ukraine, following the example of the American Magnitsky Act, plans to draw up the Sentsov Act (reference to Oleh Sentsov, former POW released from Russian captivity in September, 2019-Ed) – a procedure for Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to impose sanctions on foreign officials and entities, which systematically violate human rights and/or are accused of organizing and ordering murders, kidnappings and torture, engaging in inhuman treatment, and pronouncing illegal or politically motivated sentences.

The original Magnitsky Act was passed in the United States in 2012 to penalize Russian individuals accused of human rights violations. Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian attorney working for a UK firm in Russia, accused of tax evasion and tax fraud. He died in police custody in 2009 after being repeatedly denied medical care. After Magnitsky’s death, his employer Bill Browder, began a strong lobbying campaign to pass US legislation that would sanction the Russian individuals involved in Magnitsky’s case.

In 2016, US Congress enacted the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which allows the US government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world. Following the US lead, the Baltic States, Canada and the UK adopted legislation similar to the Global Magnitsky Act.

On December 9, 2019, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrelll announced that all EU Member States “… have agreed to launch preparatory work for a global sanctions regime to address serious human rights violations, which will be the European Union equivalent of the so-called Global Magnitsky Act of the United States.”

Thus, the strength of sanctions lies in global interaction.

Sanctions applied as an international instrument of influence on the violator of international law are effective only when imposed globally, when foreign states and institutions communicate and interact. The restrictive measures imposed by Ukraine’s partners are important, so Ukraine will strive to coordinate its policies and comply with sanction regimes applied by partner-countries. The MofFA of Ukraine will first harmonize its sanctions policy with its international partners, including the EU and the Group of Seven countries, and also simplify procedures for implementing mandatory UN Security Council sanctions into Ukrainian legislation.

Today, Ukraine stands before its international partners, politicians and “Putinversteherers” (Putinempathizers) in some Western countries and demands an answer: how many more Russian aggressions, poisonings by novichok, interference in elections, murders in the centres of major capitals, etc. are needed to finally understand that the Kremlin regime is neither a friend nor a partner, but a real threat?

That is why Ukraine must play a leading role in increasing the pressure on the Russian Federation, setting the pace for identifying new sectors of the economy, individuals and legal entities in Russia that should come under international sanctions.

Let us not forget that the most important sanctions against Russia were introduced after the Kremlin’s hostile actions against Ukraine: the occupation and annexation of Crimea, the invasion of the Donbas by Russian troops, the downing of MN-17, kidnappings, illegal arrests and detentions of Ukrainian nationals in Russian prisons, aggression against Ukrainian military vessels in the Black Sea, and the blockade of the Kerch Strait. Although sanctions have deterred further Russian aggression, they have not yet achieved their main goal – forcing Russia to end its occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas.

Despite the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine international unity and global sanctions policies, the restrictions imposed on Russia will not be lifted as long as armed aggression against Ukraine continues. Furthermore, Moscow’s unwillingness to change its policy should give Ukraine and the international community reason to tighten and extend such sanctions.

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