A return to EU sanctions once more

December 18, 2014

Following on from yesterday’s entry relating to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the soon to (possibly) expire suspension of Kremlin voting rights within the institution at the year end, that in turn raised the question of whether said suspension of voting rights was imposed a sanction or an arbitrary punishment.  Thus it is perhaps timely to look once more at the EU sanctions.

The EU sanctions are imposed for a duration of 1 year that then require renewal if they are to continue.  Despite this perhaps appearing to be somewhat overly bureaucratic, notwithstanding requiring a continued unanimous unity from all Member States, it does give the perception of sanctions being imposed to either send a signal to The Kremlin, as well as those actually sanctioned, that their behavior, be it direct or supporting, is unacceptable – or attempt to contain and/or change Kremlin policy, as well as the policy of those sanctioned.

In short the 1 year duration requiring renewal insures EU sanctions are therefore seen as a temporary policy changing instrument and not open-ended arbitrary punishment – cumbersome as the arrangement may be.

It is beyond doubt that the sanctions raised specifically with regard to the annexation Crimea will continue.  They are likely to continue for years – renewed annually.  The recognition of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation will not come any time soon – if ever.  To do so accepts illegal annexation as a path to changing recognised territorial boundaries.  With the exodus of the Tatar and ethnic Ukrainians from Crimea, and an influx of Russians, not to mention atmosphere of intimidation and suppression those Tatar and Ukrainians that have remained now face, any future referendum would no longer represent the will of the population at the time of annexation.  To think otherwise would be retarded – even if floated as a politically expedient way to deal with the Crimea problem.

That said, both the Kremlin and the EU could cope with continued sanctions relating specifically to Crimea only for decades to come.  It is the sanctions that followed, relating to eastern Ukraine that are a thorn in the Kremlin side, and also the area where European unity will be put to the test.  Indeed it would be no surprise to see sanctions relating to the territory of Crimea increase, whilst sanctions imposed relating to eastern Ukraine eventually subside.  In effect Crimea and those involved, (and are yet to do so), will become ring-fenced as a separate issue from events in eastern Ukraine as time passes, leaving Crimea a perennial bone of contention, whilst eventually a transactional – rather than business as usual – relationship with the Kremlin eventually becomes the normative when matters in the east are far more to the collective European liking.

However, yesterday, it became apparent that certain Ukrainian individuals currently subject to sanctions may soon have those sanctions removed.

As was published here at the end of February, the issue of sanctioning the now exiled “Family” regime of former President Yanukovych seemed problematic even then – prior to any Crimean annexation or war in eastern Ukraine.   Again it is necessary to remind ourselves that sanctions are not intended to be arbitrary punishment, but a tool employed to signal discontent, or to contain, or to change policy.

As that entry stated:  “Perhaps the EU Member States, in an effort to support the “EU brand” in Ukraine, would be wise to make a very public declaration that all assets held within their sovereign territories belonging to, or believed to belong to, any names that would have been on an agreed sanctions list, will now be subjected to criminal investigation regarding money laundering as a far better alternative?

It would certainly be a way to drip-feed the EU consistently into the Ukrainian media over the coming months (and possibly years) as assets are systematically frozen, seized and repatriated (where possible).”

Therefore, unless the EU has intelligence that the Ukrainians who formed the previous regime under the then President Yanukovych are indeed actively supporting nefarious events in Ukraine now – or very likely to do so – are sanctions the right instrument to deal with their assets held within the territory and systems run/controlled by the European Member States?  Is not opening the usually long and drawn out criminal investigations into money laundering a far more suitable tool to retain and possibly repatriate stolen money?

If the EU is to remove these people from its sanctions list, at what point did it realise sanctions are the wrong tool?  Is their continued inclusion now nothing more than arbitrary punishment until their removal?

It also need be noted that the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, certainly with regard to the 3 individuals names in the above tweet, has yet to build a domestic case against them of criminal wrong doing – and perhaps any investigations carried out by the EU and Member States into money laundering regarding them would/could therefore be construed by some as politically motivated in the absence of any domestic case.

This naturally leads to several questions.

How and why, upon what grounds, were these individuals placed upon the sanctions lists in the first place – and why are they still on them today if they are likely to be removed sometime in the near future?  When did their level of involvement/possible continued involvement ebb/cease?  If there are suspicions about the origins of their wealth, why are no money laundering investigations underway by relevant European nations?

Why has the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office failed thus far to make any case?  A lack of will?  A lack of evidence?  Incompetence?  Has it been bought off?  Has it been warned off?  Being as kind as possible to the 3 individuals named in the above tweet, they are simply not smart enough to have made tens/hundreds of millions of US$ without the help of nefarious dealings – their State salaries naturally are nowhere near sufficient to account for their wealth.

If Ukraine cannot or will not make a case against them, is it any surprise that the EU may well remove certain Ukrainian citizens from the EU sanctions list?  That does not necessarily excuse the EU and its Member States from failing to carry out money laundering investigations into these individuals, with or without domestic cases against them in Ukraine, but there is likely to be far less political will, or law enforcement priority given any such investigations if Ukraine itself fails to act.


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