EU announces more sanctions on Belarus

The new sanctions earmark officials suspected of involvement in the forced landing of a Ryanair plane last month as well as participation in the crackdown on opposition protests in Belarus

Photo: EPA Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio (L) speaks with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell as they take part in a EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, 21 June 2021.

European Union foreign ministers announced Monday a fresh raft of sanctions against the Belarusian government, this time targeting 86 officials and state-owned entities. The United States and Britain are likely to follow with further sanctions of their own in the next few days, according to EU officials.

The new sanctions earmark officials suspected of involvement in the forced landing of a Ryanair plane last month as well as participation in the crackdown on opposition protests in Belarus mounted since last year August, when Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in an election widely seen as rigged. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.

The ministers are also likely to signal that sanctions will soon be broadened to include restrictions on Belarus exports of potash and petroleum products and also a ban on any new lending by European banks to Belarus. Those penalties will be coordinated with other Western allies, including the United States later this month, say EU officials.

The sanctions announced Monday are a mixture of travel bans and asset freeze. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council tweeted: “Today the EU sends another strong signal of support to the people of Belarus by imposing further restrictive measures. Our message to the regime cannot be misunderstood: Release all political prisoners. Stop further repression."

Among officials blacklisted are transport, defense and air traffic officials.

Subsequent broader economic sanctions recommended by the foreign ministers will be discussed by EU national leaders this week. Belarus is dependent on loans from European commercial banks and bans on new lending and a prohibition on EU investors from trading securities or buying short-term bonds would likely have a major economic impact on the country, say EU diplomats.

“We have to tighten the thumbscrews,” Austria's foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters.

Belarus is a major exporter of potash, used in fertilizers, and other chemicals. EU countries imported $1.5 billion worth of chemicals from Belarus last year. It also imported $1.2 billion worth of crude oil and lubricants.

Lithuanian officials also redoubled Monday their accusations that Lukashenko has been “weaponizing” migrants and is behind a surge in Iraqi and Syrian asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally into their country.

Migrant trafficking

They say Belarus’s state-owned tourism agency has been organizing flights to Minsk from Baghdad and Istanbul for migrants, charging them from $1,800 to $12,000, and then handing them over to Belarusian border guards who assist them to cross the mainly forested 680-kilometer border Lithuania shares with Belarus.

In the last few weeks Lithuanian border guards have detained nearly 400 migrants and at least another thousand are believed to be waiting to cross. During the whole of last year only 74 migrants were detained crossing the border into Lithuania from Belarus. Lithuanian authorities say they are stepping up border security and have asked for help from the EU's border guard service, Frontex.

A general view of the newly installed tents in Lithuania's migrant processing centre in Pabrade, Lithuania June 15, 2021…

Andrius Kubilius, an EU lawmaker and former Lithuanian prime minister, on Sunday said Belarus is “literally organizing package deals” for migrants, making money while also goading Lithuania.

Lukashenko in May warned he would retaliate against the EU for imposing sanctions after Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk, where they then arrested Belarusian political activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega, a Russian national.

Similar articles