WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has not ruled out sanctions, including visa bans, on Ukrainian officials implicated in police violence against anti-government demonstrators, a top State Department official said on Wednesday.
Victoria Nuland, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the State Department would consider a “broad number of tools” in response to violence in Ukraine. Visa bans and sanctions “are on the table,” Nuland said.
The committee will develop its own sanctions against Ukrainian officials if the situation does not improve soon, chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) added.
The European Union, which has taken the lead on Western policy toward Ukraine, is not considering sanctions against Ukraine, EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton said Monday.
Ukrainian opposition figures and Ukrainian diaspora groups in the U.S. are calling on Congress to pass sanctions similar to those it enacted against Russian officials implicated in a staggering $230 million tax fraud and the prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who exposed it. The U.S. did not add more names to the list in December as expected, and has not given a reason for doing so. Referring to the list on Wednesday, Nuland said further action would be taken “in the weeks ahead.”
Initial euphoria when record crowds flooded Kiev’s Independence Square, the Maidan, in December to protest President Viktor Yanukovych’s abrupt U-turn from Europe toward Russia and subsequent police brutality has given way in recent weeks to an edgy, sometimes violent stalemate. A Kiev court banned all protests in the city center Wednesday until March 8. Though the ban is likely not enough to deter protesters, who first seized the city center on Dec. 1 in violation of another court order and have defied freezing temperatures to camp out there since, rumors that riot police will make another attempt to clear the square have begun to swirl. Police denied Wednesday that they were planning to move in on protesters after Anatoly Grytsenko, a former defense minister now in the opposition, claimed to have come across plans to do so.
Yanukovych now appears secure until next year’s presidential elections after he staved off default with a $15 billion Russian bailout. Opposition infighting and weariness over disappointments following 2004’s Orange Revolution, which initially prevented Yanukovych from coming to power, means no obvious political leader has emerged to oppose him. Numbers on the Maidan have steadily dwindled as prosecutors open more criminal cases against protesters.