4:52pm

Wed February 19, 2014
Europe

U.S., Allies Urge All Sides In Ukraine To Pull Back From Brink

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 10:38 pm

Foreign ministers from France, Germany and Poland are traveling to Ukraine in hopes of persuading all sides in the country's recent violence to pull back from the brink and restart a political dialogue. The U.S. is also urging the country's president to calm the situation and restart a dialogue with the opposition. But the U.S. and Europe seem to have few levers of influence, as the crisis spins out of control.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before reporters in Paris Wednesday to restate his hope for a negotiated settlement to the political crisis in Ukraine. He says Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has a choice to make.

"The choice is between protecting the people that he serves, all of the people, and a choice for a compromise and dialogue, versus violence and mayhem," Kerry said.

Kerry says the choice should be clear, but the U.S. and its partners are still looking for ways to influence the Ukrainian leader, who seems determined to end weeks of protests in the main square of Kiev, the capital.

Sanctions could be part of that, says Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Program on Transatlantic Relations.

"We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends in Europe and elsewhere in order to try to create the environment for compromise," he says.

The U.S. needs to move quickly, though, he says. And it's not just Yanukovych and his top aides who should face sanctions. Karatnycky says the U.S. should put pressure on Ukrainian oligarchs, who control much of the country's parliament and make clear to them that they will have their bank accounts abroad frozen if they don't help calm the situation in the country.

He says various delegations from the U.S. — the Senate, the State Department and the ambassador — have undertaken "back-door communications with these leading influentials in Ukraine," but that efforts needs to be stepped up.

Others have their doubts. Andrew Weiss, vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, thinks all this talk of sanctions is too little too late.

"Sanctions are a good feel-good instrument. They will show the outside world that the U.S. and the Europeans are doing something," he says. "But they are really not likely to affect events on the ground."

The U.S. and Europe have little leverage, while the Russians have plenty — and are pushing in the opposite direction, says Weiss, who oversees research on Russia and Eurasia.

"They want the square cleared," he says. "They want the Yanukovych government to basically isolate itself and become completely dependent on Russia for external support."

Weiss — who worked in the Clinton administration on Ukraine — says this should be a time for high-level U.S.-Russian contacts on the crisis. But these are difficult times, he says, far from the days when the U.S., Russia and Ukraine came together in 1994 to help Ukraine get rid of Soviet stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

"We are just generations past that at this point. There's so much bad blood on the part of the Russians, who view any U.S. role in their neighborhood as meddlesome," Weiss says. "It's really poisonous out there right now."

But while Russia has clearly sided with Yanukovych up to this point, the Atlantic Council's Karatnycky believes Moscow may have miscalculated. He says Russia should be worried about events spilling out of control, and the protesters taking over local government offices in western Ukraine.

"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin does not want to have a divided country at war on his border, a country that, for example, in the west controls the levers of ... his gas to central and southern Europe," Karatnycky says. "I doubt he wants Ukraine to fall into economic decline because it will be a very big bill. He broke it, he'll own it."

But Karatnycky says that's not a message the U.S. could give to Putin. He says Washington will just have to rely on the Russians to come to that conclusion themselves — and soon.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Foreign ministers from France, Germany and Poland are traveling to Ukraine tomorrow, hoping to push peace talks along. The U.S. also urged President Yanukovych to restart a dialogue with the opposition. But NPR's Michele Kelemen reports the U.S. and Europe seem to have few levers of influence.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before reporters in Paris to restate his hope for a negotiated settlement to the crisis in Ukraine. He says President Viktor Yanukovych has a choice to make.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: The choice is between protecting the people that he serves, all of the people, and a choice for a compromise and dialogue versus violence and mayhem.

KELEMEN: Kerry says the answer should be clear, but the U.S. and its partners are still looking for ways to influence the Ukrainian leader, who seems determined to end weeks of protests in Kiev's main square.

KERRY: We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends in Europe and elsewhere in order to try to create the environment for compromise.

KELEMEN: The U.S. needs to move quickly, though, says Adrian Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council. And it's not just President Yanukovych and his top aides who should face sanctions. Karatnycky says the U.S. should put pressure on wealthy and influential Ukrainians - the so-called oligarchs - who control much of the country's parliament and make clear to them that they will have their foreign bank accounts frozen if they don't help calm the situation in the country.

ADRIAN KARATNYCKY: Various delegations, both from the Senate and from the State Department and the ambassadors have been doing sort of back-door communications with these leading influentials in Ukraine, but it needs to be, I think, spiced up a little bit.

KELEMEN: Others have their doubts that this approach will work. Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says all this talk of sanctions is too little too late.

ANDREW WEISS: Sanctions are a good feel-good instrument. They'll show the outside world that the U.S. and the Europeans are doing something. But they're really not likely to affect events on the ground.

KELEMEN: The U.S. and Europe have little leverage, he says, while the Russians have plenty and are pushing in the opposite direction.

WEISS: They want the square cleared. They want the Yanukovych government to basically isolate itself and become completely dependent on Russia for external support.

KELEMEN: Weiss, who worked in the Clinton administration on Ukraine, says this should be a time for high-level U.S.-Russian contacts. But he says we're far from the days when the U.S., Russia and Ukraine came together 20 years ago to help Ukraine get rid of Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

WEISS: We're just generations past that at this point. There's so much bad blood on the part of the Russians, who view any U.S. role in their neighborhood as meddlesome. You know, it's really poisonous out there right now.

KELEMEN: But while Russia has sided with Yanukovych up to this point, Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council believes Moscow may have miscalculated. He says Russia should be worried that the crisis is spinning out of control and protesters are now taking over some local government offices in western Ukraine.

KARATNYCKY: Mr. Putin does not want to have a divided country at war on his border, a country that, for example, in the West, controls the levers of gas flow of his gas to central and southern Europe. I don't think he wants Ukraine to fall into economic decline because it'll be a very big bill. He broke it, he'll own it.

KELEMEN: But Karatnycky says that's not a message the U.S. could give to Putin. He says Washington will just have to hope that the Russians come to that conclusion themselves, and soon. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.