The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have made coordinated announcements of new sanctions against the Belarusian dictatorship, to increase the pressure against “the repressive practices of President Alexander Lukashenko against his own people”.
“We want to financially drain the Lukashenko regime,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on social media after the announcement of the European Union, which has the widest set of restrictions against Belarus.
Foreign ministers of the 27 countries of the bloc added 78 people and 8 entities to the list of those subject to restrictions, in retaliation for the hijacking of a commercial plane and the arrest of journalist Roman Protassevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega at the end of May.
With this fourth round of sanctions, the pressure is already the most important imposed on a country of the Eastern bloc, according to analyst Ben Aris, a specialist in post-Soviet countries. For the first time, the EU measures also target seven economic sectors of great relevance to the economy of the post-Soviet country, such as potash (used in fertilizers) and petroleum products.
Potash exports account for one-fifth of Belarus’ budget revenue, and refined petroleum products another third of the country’s GDP. “Sales can be redirected to Asia and Russia, thus avoiding an economic collapse, but the sanctions will still hurt Lukashenko and increase his dependence on Moscow,” he said.
The strategy behind the sanctions, he said, is to increase the cost of Russian support to the point that President Vladimir Putin gives up support for the Belarusian dictator. It is estimated that Russia will spend between $ 2 billion and $ 3 billion per year (between R $ 10 billion and R $ 15 billion) on soft loans and debt relief, which could drop from $ 6 billion to R $ 10 billion (from R $ 30 billion). 50 billion reais). ) with penalties.
“It will hurt. It will seriously harm the Belarusian economy,” said Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief. The measures still need the approval of the leaders of the countries, at a meeting between Thursday and Friday this week.
The financial sector will also be affected: EU banks will be prohibited from lending or investing in the country. Alexander Schallenberg, Austrian Foreign Minister – one of Belarus’ leading financial service providers – said the goal is to reach the state but not the people. “We must press the ‘angels’ [‘thumbscrews’, instrumentos de tortura que apertavam os polegares de interrogados] after this cruel state air piracy action, ”he told the Guardian.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, who led the opposition front against Lukashenko in last year’s presidential elections, met ministers ahead of the meeting and called on the EU to step up sanctions to put pressure on the dictatorship to it frees more than 500 political prisoners in the country. Among them is Svetlana’s husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, arrested in May last year while launching his candidacy for the presidency.
Lukashenko’s most popular opponent, executive Viktor Babariko, has also been in prison since before the presidential elections. “Sanctions are not a quick fix, but they can help end violence and free people,” Tikhanovskaya said on social media.
The EU has already imposed three rounds of sanctions, reaching a total of 155 people, including Lukashenko and his son, and 15 entities, who have been banned from traveling and their assets frozen. The measures are seen as symbolic, as the country’s elite have few assets in the European bloc.
After the interception of the Ryanair flight by a military fighter and its diversion to Minsk airport, the EU and the United Kingdom banned the overflight of Belarus by their airlines and closed the airports of the bloc to Belarusian planes .
On Monday, the British government announced travel bans and asset freezes against “senior officials” of the Lukashenko regime and sanctions against the oil company BNK Ltd. “The UK will not tolerate the coming of those who suppress human rights, nor that they use our financial institutions,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
The United States, which had already imposed barriers on Belarusian state-owned enterprises in May after the hijacking of the plane, froze all assets and blocked financial transactions with 5 entities and 16 people, including Lukashenko’s press secretary , Natallia Mikalaeuna Eismant.
The State Department also banned 46 members of the Belarusian dictatorship from entering the United States.
UNDERSTANDING THE CASE
What is happening in Belarus?
Since August 2020, demonstrators have been protesting against an election considered rigged, according to the results of international organizations, and demanding the ouster of dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
Who is Lukashenko?
Former director of a collective farm during the former Soviet Union, he won the country’s first presidential election in 1994, the only one considered free and fair. Since then, he has concentrated power, represses the opposition and is reelected in the following elections.
What has changed last year?
The candidacy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, in front of other opposition groups whose candidates have been arrested or exiled, generated strong support in the country, suggesting that, for the first time, opponents of Lukashenko would have a chance to stand up. go to the polls. But observers were prevented from following the vote and the dictatorship reported that the president had secured 80% of the vote, sparking riots and protests.
Why has the EU launched a new round of sanctions?
At the end of May, Lukashenko ordered the interception of a Ryanair flight departing from Greece to Lithuania and had on board an opponent of his regime, blogger Roman Protassevich, 26, arrested on landing in Minsk and prosecuted for three misdemeanors. This act was seen as an attack on civil aviation safety and human rights.
If three other waves of sanctions didn’t work, why this one?
The early rounds banned travel and froze the assets of individuals and institutions involved in the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, but were seen as symbolic, as the Belarusian elite have little investment in the European bloc.
Now, for the first time, sectors that are economically relevant to the regime will be affected, such as arms, tobacco, petroleum products and potash, which are responsible for a considerable share of Belarusian revenues. The strategy is to increase the cost of Russian aid so that Vladimir Putin’s government no longer supports Lukashenko.