The EU has announced the imposition of new economic sanctions against Belarus, in response to what it calls “serious human rights violations” and “the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition, and journalists.”
The targeted restrictions are aimed at several sectors of the country’s industry, including petroleum products, potash fertilizers and tobacco products.
The EU cited last month’s forced grounding of a Ryanair flight passing through Belarusian airspace as further justification for the new measures.
On May 23, a plane flying from Athens to Vilnius was grounded at Minsk Airport following a fake bomb threat. The aircraft was carrying opposition activist Roman Protasevich. As soon as the plane landed in the capital, Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were immediately arrested and are now in a Belarusian prison.
According to the Belarusian authorities, the bomb threat came from Switzerland via Proton Mail. The email provider later contradicted Minsk, claiming that the warning was sent via email after the plane had already been diverted.
The forced grounding has been described by some as a “hijacking” and “piracy,” with many Western politicians accusing Lukashenko of concocting a fake bomb threat as a means to lock up a prominent enemy.
As well as restrictions on economic sectors, the new sanctions ban the transfer of military technology to Belarus and prohibit EU companies from providing insurance services for the Belarusian authorities. Minsk will also have its access to EU financial markets limited.
The latest sanctions are not the first to be imposed on Belarus by the EU in recent months, and a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now subject to Brussels’ restrictive measures.
“Since October 2020, the EU has progressively imposed restrictive measures against Belarus,” the EU said in a statement. “The measures have been adopted in response to the fraudulent nature of the August 2020 presidential elections in the country, and the intimidation and violent repression of peaceful protesters, opposition members, and journalists.”
Earlier this week, the bloc targeted vehicle manufacturers MAZ and BelAZ, as well as Belaeronavigatsia, the state agency responsible for air traffic.
On June 21, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said that the economic bloc must increase pressure because, thus far, sanctions are yet to have any effect on Lukashenko.
He was supported by foreign ministers from around the EU, including Germany’s Heiko Maas.
“We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions – meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s income,” Maas said.
Earlier on Thursday, Lukashenko urged officials to show “those rascals across the border” that their sanctions are a manifestation of powerlessness.
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