BRUSSELS (AP) – The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada on Thursday simultaneously imposed sanctions on dozens of officials, organizations and companies in Belarus, with the EU targeting those accused of participating in a “hybrid attack” on the bloc using migrants.
Three and 27 EU countries have targeted Belarus since President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term last year in what the West and other observers believe were rigged, and because of the crackdown on peaceful protesters that followed.
The US Department of State said that the US Treasury Department “identified the three aircraft as blocked property and designated 32 individuals and legal entities, including Belarusian state-owned enterprises, government officials and others who support the regime and contribute to its repression.”
Meanwhile, the EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 17 more people, including high-ranking border and military officials, government officials and judges.
These measures also affected air carriers, including the state air carrier Belavia, and tourist groups, which the EU accuses of helping to bring migrants to Belarus in order to help them cross the border of the block of 27 countries, mainly through Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
The UK announced that it has imposed sanctions “against eight Belarusian persons responsible for repression and human rights violations.” He also froze the assets of Belaruskali, one of the world’s largest producers of potash fertilizers, which is the main source of revenue for the Belarusian government.
The State Department said that “today’s actions demonstrate our unshakable determination to act in the face of a brutal regime that intensifies repression against Belarusians, undermines the peace and security of Europe and continues to bully people who seek to live only in freedom.”
At least 8,000 migrants, many of them Iraqis, entered the EU without permission this year from Belarus. Lithuania and Poland have declared a state of emergency at their borders to prevent people from crossing the border. Several people died trapped in the border zone between Poland and Belarus in freezing temperatures.
READ MORE: Poland uses water hoses on migrants and condemns Belarus for attack
With this in mind, the European Union aimed at Belavia. “Migrants wishing to cross the external border of the Union flew to Minsk on Belavia flights from a number of countries in the Middle East, in particular from Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates (United Arab Emirates) and Turkey,” the text of the sanctions says.
Cham Wing Airlines, which operates flights from Syria to Belarus, is also in the EU’s field of vision. He is accused of increasing the number of flights from Damascus to Minsk in the summer and opening new offices in the capital of Belarus to better organize shuttles.
Also on the list is the state tourism company Tsentrkurort, which, according to the EU, helped at least 51 Iraqis obtain visas to Belarus and organized bus transport for them to the border.
The Minsk Hotel and Planeta companies connected with the Office of the President of Belarus are accused of accommodating migrants trying to get to the border.
The EU has also targeted VIP Grub, a passport and visa service based in Istanbul, Turkey. The sanctions list states that the company “organizes trips to Belarus with the clear intention to facilitate migration to the EU. VIP Grub is actively promoting EU migration. “
On Thursday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus announced that the new sanctions are aimed at “economic strangulation of Belarus, the maximum complication of the life of Belarusians” and the destruction of Belarus “as a sovereign, economically successful state.”
The ministry denied accusations that the Belarusian government orchestrated the migrant crisis and accused the EU of undermining “stability and security in our region.” In his statement, he called the EU “the initiator of the sanctions spiral and aggression” and promised “tough, asymmetric” measures in response.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would not tolerate “organized and politically motivated instrumentalization of the people by the Lukashenka regime.”
“This cynical strategy of exploiting vulnerable people is a heinous attempt to divert attention from the continuing disregard for the international law regime, fundamental freedoms and human rights in Belarus,” Borrell said in a statement.
Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya, the leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile, supported his opinion.
“The regime artificially created a crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, cynically using migrants, living people like a ram,” said Tsikhanovskaya. “But instead of regaining legitimacy and attention, Lukashenko achieved the opposite – the EU did not succumb to pressure and introduced new sanctions.”
Jill Lawless from London and Juras Karmanov from Kiev contributed to this report.