The case for sanctioning Ukraine’s anti-Western MPs

The Ukrainian flag flies above parliament in Kyiv. (REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko)

In early September 2020, the United States imposed sanctions against Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach, who was identified as “a Russian agent for more than a decade who coordinates his activities closely with Russian intelligence agencies.” 

Unfortunately, Derkach is far from the only Russian agent currently serving as a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

There are dozens of MPs in today’s Ukrainian parliament who are actively spreading anti-Western propaganda and promoting Russian interests. They attack the independent state institutions that serve as pillars of Ukraine’s cooperation with the European Union and International Monetary Fund, while also working to discredit civil society activists and pro-reform Ukrainian politicians. Some of these MPs are Russian agents similar to Derkach. Others represent Ukrainian oligarchs whose interests match those of the Kremlin. 

The increasingly vocal anti-Western agenda in today’s Ukraine relies heavily on social media troll farms and national TV channels controlled by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskiy and Vladimir Putin’s closest Ukrainian ally Viktor Medvedchuk, who was sanctioned by the US back in 2014. 

These platforms have been used to promote a consistent series of messages designed to undermine Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Reformers are routinely branded as servants of George Soros, or “Sorosiata”. Ukraine is declared to be under “external governance”, with the US accused of curating everything from the Ukrainian political arena and civil society to the country’s media. Meanwhile, Ukrainians are repeatedly informed that their country has been enslaved by the IMF and Ukrainian land will soon be sold off.

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Ukraine is a democracy and the political forces promoting these messages have every right to voice their opinions. However, there is a remarkable degree of hypocrisy behind much of this aggressively anti-Western rhetoric.

Most of the pro-Kremlin politicians who are currently leading the assault on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration also benefit greatly from the advantages offered by interaction with the Western world. They control companies in the European Union, frequently spend their vacations in the West, keep their savings in Western currencies, and often choose to educate their children in places like the UK or Switzerland. In other words, pro-Kremlin Ukrainian MPs who personally enjoy the perks of Western integration are simultaneously killing the dreams of less privileged Ukrainians who want to see European standards implemented inside Ukraine itself.

The stakes could hardly be higher. Ukraine’s continued Euro-Atlantic trajectory is now at risk, along with the limited progress made since 2014, such as the introduction of visa-free EU travel for Ukrainian citizens.

My colleagues and I at Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Centre cannot help but feel that this is a grave injustice. We are therefore calling on Western nations to consider imposing visa bans and other restrictions on Kremlin agents and other anti-Western forces in the Ukrainian parliament.

As part of this initiative, we are compiling a comprehensive data bank covering anti-Western Ukrainian parliamentary decisions and propaganda spread by MPs who also benefit from their personal and professional ties to the West. The end goal is for these members of parliament to face the ramifications of their own anti-Western activities.

There are a number of international legal and policy tools available which could be used to restrict access to the West for Kremlin agents in the Ukrainian parliament.

All of these MPs qualify as politically exposed persons. According to international anti-money laundering standards, this makes them high-risk clients for financial institutions, lawyers, and real estate agents. In line with this status, Western financial institutions are obliged to verify the source of wealth if they, their family members, or companies under their control happen to be clients of banks in the EU, UK, Switzerland, or the US.

The publicly available online asset declarations of most suspected Kremlin agents and oligarch representatives in the Ukrainian parliament make it clear that they typically have considerable unexplained wealth. Moreover, many of these MPs fail to declare the Western companies they ultimately control.

It is also worth noting that Western financial institutions are obliged to treat the family members of Ukrainian MPs in the same manner as politically exposed persons when conducting full enhanced due diligence. With this in mind, we are calling for Ukraine’s partners in the West to explore the implementation of existing anti-money laundering regulations.

Personal visa bans and sanctions are more overtly political tools which Ukraine’s Western partners could also use in addition to anti-money laundering regulations. For example, objections from a single EU member state would be sufficient to block a Ukrainian MP from entering the European Union if they were judged to be actively undermining Ukraine’s relationship with the EU.

This is not a matter of EU interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. On the contrary, the anti-Western activities of Ukrainian MPs should be treated as a security issue for the entire European Union. This is particularly relevant for EU member states in Central Europe, who might otherwise find themselves faced with the alarming prospect of sharing a future border with a Kremlin-friendly government in Kyiv.

Our immediate goal is to prepare well-documented and fact-based analysis detailing the anti-Western activities of Ukrainian MPs. It will then be up to Ukraine’s Western partners to consider whether it is appropriate to introduce consequences for Ukrainian politicians who seek to deny their compatriots the Euro-Atlantic advantages that they themselves currently enjoy.

Daria Kaleniuk is the Executive Director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Centre.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

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