BRUSSELS — In response to the detention of a young opposition journalist last month, EU foreign ministers were expected on Monday to call on President Alexander G. Further sanctions would be imposed on Lukashenko’s Belarusian government.
The fourth round of sanctions will affect important parts of Belarus’ economy – banking, oil and tobacco and, in particular, the potash industry – and will represent an effort to broaden punishment by punishing organizations rather than individuals responsible for repression.
Ministers are meeting in Luxembourg on Monday to vote on the restrictions, which are expected to be ratified by the heads of state and government when they meet later this week in Brussels.
“We will approve the new sanctions package, which is a comprehensive package,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fonteles said. He said more than 80 individuals and organizations would be targeted with the EU travel ban and asset freeze.
Europeans widely viewed the previous round of sanctions as fraudulent and then crushed a popular uprising after Mr Lukashenko claimed re-election victory in August’s election, but the latest round began with Roman Protasevich’s detention. Hua, a young disgruntled journalist. Was central in reporting and coordinating on last year’s protests.
Mr Protasevich, 26, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, 23, were arrested on 23 May after the Belarusian government forced a passenger jet flying between Greece and Lithuania to land in Minsk, both EU member states. did, claiming that there was a bomb on board.
- Belarus in the spotlight. The forced landing of a commercial flight on Sunday is being seen by many countries as a hijacking of the kingdom, which its strong president, Alexander G. Lukashenko called.
- Election results and protests. It came less than a year after Belarusians faced a violent police crackdown when they protested election results that many Western governments ridiculed as a sham.
- Forced plane landing. A Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was diverted to Minsk with the goal of detaining 26-year-old dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.
- Who is Roman Protasevich? In a video released by the government, Mr Protasevich confessed to having participated in the “mass unrest” event last year, but friends say the confession was made under pressure.
Since his arrest, Protasevich – despite the thick make-up, clearly hurt – has been heard and seen on recordings and news conferences in which he praises Lukashenko in a sullen voice.
The sanctions list includes judges and prosecutors who have been involved in punishing protesters; Members of Parliament and Government; and law-enforcement officers and business executives attached to the government.
After a breakfast meeting on Monday morning between foreign ministers and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Belarus’s opposition leader, made it clear that the EU would take a comprehensive approach.
“We will no longer approve only individuals,” he said. “We will now also impose regional sanctions – which means we will now work on those economic areas that are of particular importance to Belarus and to the regime’s income.”
Mr Maas said the 27 member states were united on the new restrictions. “We want to make it very, very clear to Lukashenko that there is no turning back,” he said.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Esselborn emphasized the importance of sanctions on potash exports. “The key word, I think, is potash,” he said. “We know that Belarus produces a lot of potash, it is one of the largest suppliers globally, and I think it will hurt Lukashenko a lot if we manage something in this area.”
Sanctions on the financial sector would include a ban on new loans, by EU investors trading investment securities or buying short-term bonds in Belarus, and investment services from banks in the bloc. EU export credits will also expire.
Exports of potash, vital to fertiliser, are a major source of foreign exchange for Belarus, and state firm Belaruskali says it produces 20 percent of the world’s supply.
The EU statistics agency said the bloc imported $1.5 billion worth of chemicals, including potash, from Belarus last year, as well as more than $1.2 billion worth of crude oil and related products such as fuels and lubricants.
Austria, which has significant banking interests in Belarus through the Raiffeisen Bank, had insisted against the financial sanctions, insisting that they do not harm ordinary Belarusians, but eventually went along.
“With this agreement the European Union is sending a clear and targeted signal against intolerable acts of repression of the Belarusian regime,” the Austrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Since last year, the EU has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on Belarusian individuals, including Mr. Lukashenko, and following the hijacking, the EU banned Belarusian airlines from its airspace and allowed European airlines not to fly over Belarus. asked to fill.
However, there has been little indication that the sanctions have changed the policies or behavior of Mr. Lukashenko’s government.
Asked Monday morning what these restrictions were expected to achieve, Mr Borrell said the new restrictions would add to the pressure for change.
“The sanctions are a way to put pressure on the government of Belarus,” he said. “And these are going to cause huge damage to the Belarus economy. What do you expect when you punish something? to change their behaviour. “
Separately, on Monday, European leaders renewed sanctions against Russia in response to the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol from Ukraine, extending them for another year.