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24 November, 2012  ▪  Nataliya Gumenyuk

David Kramer: We’ve been talking about carrots for too long. Carrots don’t work. It’s time to have a serious conversation

David Kramer, president of Freedom House, told The Ukrainian Week about sanctions as a necessary step similar to measures against Russia

David Kramer is president of Freedom House. One of the oldest human rights organizations in the world, it has been promoting democracy and human rights, and monitoring the state of freedom on the planet, for 70 years. This summer Freedom House warned Kyiv about possible sanctions against Ukrainian top officials. After the October parliamentary election, David Kramer talks about sanctions as a necessary step similar to measures against Russia.

UW: Freedom House published a critical report “Sounding the Alarm Round 2: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine” in July, saying that Ukraine may head down a path toward autocracy and kleptocracy. Quite a few concerns were linked to the parliamentary election. How do you see the election against the backdrop of the report and your earlier observations?

I must say that your government ignored most of our remarks, unfortunately. Ukraine will head the OSCE in 2013. However, our concern is that Kyiv failed to comply with its commitments to the OSCE to hold a fair and transparent election. Ukraine has made a step back in terms of cooperation with the OSCE. This has been highlighted in comments from the OSCE-ODIHR, the US Department of State, and other observers.

UW: Did the campaign meet your expectations?

We started the monitoring well in advance this time. Hillary Clinton and Catherine Ashton wrote a great article about the abuse of administrative resources, pressure on the media, the Central Election Commission, and voter bribery. But it was published only a week before the election, and that was too late. A warning like that should be disclosed at least a month before the election takes place. Eventually, we saw the violations similar to those in the widely criticized local election in 2010. In nationwide terms, this year’s parliamentary election was the worst since the rerun of the presidential election in 2004.

UW: Many serious violations and wide-scale falsifications in favour of pro-government candidates in first-past-the-post districts were reported during the vote count. Just take the scandal in Pervomaisk, Mykolayiv Oblast. How do you assess this situation?

It’s discouraging to see this sort of violations and violence. Such developments do not create the necessary ground for solving political conflicts. They further polarize the situation and raise doubts about election results.

UW: How would you comment on the fact that the Ukrainian government keeps ignoring warnings from the West?

We do find it surprising. We had meetings on the highest level, including with President Yanukovych. The Ukrainian government talks about commitments but then has no intention to fulfill them. I’m afraid that we’ve reached the stage when the only way to move something is through punishment – i.e., targeted sanctions. Incentives, it appears, will not change the way the government behaves. We’ve been talking about carrots for too long. Carrots haven’t worked. It’s time to have a serious conversation. Delaying the signing of the Association Agreement and DCFTA didn’t work. I can only assume that President Yanukovych is not truly interested in signing them. So, I see no other way than taking serious measures. I reluctantly have come to the conclusion that applying sanctions, especially against certain officials, is the only alternative.

UW: What does this mean?

Freedom House will soon call for serious consideration of personal sanctions. These will first of all include refusal to grant visas to some Ukrainian officials responsible for the violations. Of course, these measures will not be taken immediately, but the talk of them will take on a much more serious scale. It’s very important that the US Congress passed the Magnitsky legislation dealing with Russia first, since the situation there is much worse, but after that, the focus should turn to Ukraine.  In the case of Russia, once passed by the Congress, the Magnitsky bill would not only bar officials involved in the death of the Russian lawyer from entering the US, but allow freezing of their assets.

UW: The Congress suggested sanctions against Ukrainian officials involved in human rights violations in July. In September, the Senate passed a resolution demanding the release of Yulia Tymoshenko. In both cases, these were just declarations.

So far, this has been the most serious step against the Ukrainian government. More importantly, there was not one vote against it in the Senate.

UW: How can the outcome of the US election affect its relations with Ukraine?

There will be no much difference.

UW: Before the Ukrainian parliamentary election, Russian opposition activist Leonid Rozvozhayev was kidnapped in Kyiv after he came to Ukraine to ask for political asylum. What do you think about this?

It was definitely kidnapping. It’s hard to say whether the Ukrainian government helped Russian special services, whether it knew about what happened, or whether it merely turned a blind eye to this. However, it allowed another government’s security services to kidnap a person on its territory. We are not concerned – we are outraged! This is the return to Soviet-style methods. We haven’t seen anything like this for a long time. Moreover, the government of Ukraine seems to be barely embarrassed by the fact that special services of another country feel like home in its territory.  It should launch an investigation into how this happened.

UW: After the parliamentary campaign ended, where do you see the biggest problems in Ukraine?

Selective justice, persecution of political opponents and corruption on the highest levels. The Ukrainian government is completely responsible for this. The biggest threat is corruption, including the “familyzation”. This word was frequently used in April  among people who were discussing how the president’s family allegedly gains personally from his position, and strengthens itself as one of the power centres.

UW: You are looking at the situation with democracy in Ukraine in the context of its presidency at OSCE in 2013. What can this mean for OSCE?

Kazakhstan headed OSCE in 2010… and it was not a great year for the organization though it survived. I really hope Ukraine won’t do damage to the OSCE. Heading it means even more responsibility to fulfill the commitments in the human dimension. The chair should be a role model, and what kind of model can Ukraine be today?


David J. Kramer is President of Freedom House, which he joined in October 2010. Prior to joining Freedom House, Kramer was a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Before joining GMF, Kramer served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from March 2008 to January 2009. He also was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs as well as regional non-proliferation issues. Before joining the U.S. Government, Kramer was a Senior Fellow at the Project for the New American Century, Associate Director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Assistant Director of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, all in Washington. Kramer received his M.A. in Soviet studies from Harvard University and his B.A. in Soviet Studies and Political Science from Tufts University.

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