The United States and European Union should ban and sanction corrupt Ukrainian officials to send a message to the country’s head of state, a former top State Department official, David J. Kramer, told the Kyiv Post on Oct. 26.
Kramer, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor under former U.S. President George W. Bush, said the West could “send a pretty strong signal by denying Ukrainians involved in serious corruption from enjoying visiting our countries, buying our real estate, and using our financial systems.”
Kramer was in Kyiv on Oct. 25-27 for meetings with top Ukrainian officials and to promote a book he published in August aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s entitled “Back to Containment: Dealing with Putin’s Regime.”
Since leaving the Bush Administration in January 2009, Kramer has remained an influential voice in U.S. foreign policy. He was the director of the Washington-based Freedom House think tank from 2010 to 2014, and worked for the McCain Institute after leaving that post.
Calling graft “as big a threat as Russian forces on Ukrainian soil,” Kramer said that the U.S. should begin to ban corrupt Ukrainian officials from entering the United States, and start adding them to individual sanctions lists.
“I want people at the highest levels and at the lowest levels to understand that the United States is losing tolerance and patience for corruption wherever it comes,” he said. “Just because you’re connected in high places, that shouldn’t win you a pass when it comes to corruption.”
He added that such a move would “show Ukrainians that the sacrifices they have made were not in vain.”
Kramer argues in his book that the time has come for Western nations to enact a new policy of containment – a reference to the U.S. grand strategy against the Soviet Union, which saw the U.S. fight the Cold War by attempting to halt the spread of Communist influence around the world.
Asked how Ukraine would fit into this new American containment, Kramer said that the U.S. and EU should continue to toughen sanctions on Russia while providing Ukraine with lethal weapons.
Since the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution that deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, the United States has, in concert with the EU, issued waves of sanctions targeting top Russian officials accused of orchestrating the war in Ukraine.
Kramer argued that without further expansion of the sanctions regime, the measures would risk losing their punch.
“We need to ramp up our sanctions until Russia changes its behavior,” he said. “Maintaining existing sanctions won’t lead to a change in behavior.”
Kramer added that U.S.-delivered lethal weapons should be placed at the line of contact.
“I wouldn’t want to take that chance and have Javelins out West while Russian tanks are rolling through in the east,” he said, referring to the U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank weapons system.
American policymakers have refused Ukrainian requests for lethal weaponry in part because of the belief that Russia would escalate the conflict in a way that the United States would either be unable or unwilling to respond to.
But Kramer dismissed the notion, calling Ukraine a “bulwark against aggression from the Putin regime.”
“If Russia were to escalate, we would have to increase our support for Ukraine, and toughen sanctions,” he said.
Kramer added that additional sanctions could encompass “the financial, energy, and mining industries. All of those things that are important to Russia.”
But he held back from advocating for Russia to be expelled from the SWIFT network of international payments.
“Medvedev characterized the possible expulsion from SWIFT as a nuclear option,” Kramer said. “We don’t want to do it.”
“But if Russia does not change its behavior, then we should have that as a possible option that we would pursue,” he added.
Kramer all-but ruled out the idea that the U.S. would send troops to Ukraine, if Kyiv ever felt the need to ask.
“It hasn’t been requested, I think it’s unlikely, frankly, that it would be approved if requested,” he said.
NO FOREIGN CASH
Kramer has played a crucial role in the ongoing scandal over ties between the Kremlin and the successful 2016 presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
In November 2016, weeks after Trump was elected, Kramer learned of a dossier that purported to detail Russian government support for the Trump campaign and supposedly compromising information on the U.S. president.
Kramer reportedly met with former MI6 agent Christopher Steele in London, taking a copy of the dossier with him to U.S. Senator John McCain in Washington, D.C., who gave it to the FBI on Dec. 9, 2016.
Though Kramer said he couldn’t comment on his reported role in moving the dossier, he did say that there should be “full transparency about who’s funding candidates” and how. It is not clear if the documents that Kramer brought to the United States are the documents published by news website Buzzfeed in January 2017.
“In the United States, it’s illegal to take foreign funding,” Kramer said. “In France, Marine le Pen was proud of taking Russian money.”
“It’s illegal for a (U.S.) candidate or a party to take funding from outside the country,” he emphasized. “I think we need to see more countries take that kind of approach.”
The former Freedom House director added that U.S. President Donald Trump concerned him in part by the example that he might set for other world leaders, particularly in the realm of freedom of speech.
“I’m less worried about the impact that (Trump) has on American journalists as I am that other leaders will view that as license to go after journalists in their country,” Kramer said.
He urged the Ukrainian government to protect its own journalists, as well as not accede to requests from foreign countries like Azerbaijan, which attempt to extradite exiled dissidents back to their homeland for prosecution. Kramer recalled the ongoing case of Fikret Huseynli, an Azeri journalist arrested in Ukraine on Oct. 14 on an Azeri arrest warrant.
Kramer also noted the lack of progress in solving the case of the murder in Kyiv in July last year of Belarussian-Ukrainian journalist Pavlo Sheremet, added that, “getting to the bottom of and finding out who is responsible for Sheremet’s murder is essential.”
But the former Bush Administration official emphasized that while journalists working in Eastern Europe need to “make sure that they stick to the facts and report what’s really happening,” the topic of “information war” was largely a separate issue.
“The information war is a means that the regime in Moscow uses,” Kramer said. “The problem is the regime in Moscow, and until we come to grips with that reality, talking about propaganda and all that isn’t going to work.”
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