EU imposes far-reaching economic sanctions against Belarus because of the Ryanair incident

  • Economic sanctions affect potash, tobacco, oil and finances
  • The EU’s quick reaction in the divided bloc is unusual
  • Emergency landing of Ryanair flight outraged EU

BRUSSELS, June 24 (Reuters) – The European Union first imposed far-reaching economic sanctions on Belarus on Thursday, targeting its key export industries and access to finance, a month after landing a Ryanair flight in Minsk.

Measures include banning EU companies from importing goods or doing business with Belarusian companies in sectors such as banking, petroleum products and potash, a salt used in fertilizers and the country’s main export product.

The sanctions are far stricter than measures imposed in the past, which mainly consisted of black lists of Belarusian officials and had little or no influence on the behavior of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994.

As the most important measure for the Belarusian economy, the new sanctions prohibit EU companies from transporting potash. Belarus now has to find other countries and ports to ship its top exports across the Baltic Sea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is Lukashenko’s closest ally, but Russia does not have enough port capacity to handle Belarusian or its own fertilizers, data showed.

EU leaders were outraged by the interception of the Ryanair plane that was flying between Athens and Vilnius on May 23. The Belarusian authorities arrested a journalist critical of the regime and his girlfriend after the plane landed. Lukashenko said the interception was justified to prevent a rebellion in Belarus.

Since Lukashenko had so far been insensitive to foreign pressure in a presidential election that opponents said had been manipulated last August, and the street protests followed, the EU had announced that it would increase the pressure. Continue reading

Diplomats said the decision to impose tougher sanctions was taken unusually quickly, reflecting the seriousness with which governments viewed the Ryanair incident.

‘NO OTHER CHOICE’

Under the new sanctions, Europeans are not allowed to “sell, supply, transfer or export, directly or indirectly, any communications equipment, technology or software that could be used for surveillance or suppression to anyone in Belarus”.

Trading in petroleum products, potash and tobacco products is prohibited. Access to the EU capital markets is now restricted, the EU announced, with a trade ban on Belarusian securities with terms of more than 90 days.

European banks are not allowed to offer insurance or reinsurance, new loans or new loans to the Belarusian government or public bodies and agencies. The European Investment Bank will stop lending to the country.

Since the Ryanair incident, the EU has also banned overflights over Belarusian territory by its airlines and banned Belarusian airlines from their airspace.

The EU, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada also expanded their blacklists this week. The EU now bans 166 people from traveling or doing business in the bloc, including Russian businessman Mikhail Gutseriyev, Belarus’ largest foreign investor.

EU states can grant Belarus exemptions from sanctions for humanitarian aid, environmental projects and nuclear safety, according to the EU Official Journal.

Belarus is one of six former Soviet republics to which the EU has offered money, technical assistance and market access until Lukashenko approves new elections and releases political prisoners.

Despite concerns that economic sanctions could bring Belarus closer to its ally Russia, EU foreign ministers said they had to respond to what they saw as unacceptable repressive behavior.

“I don’t see any imminent democratic transition in Belarus,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba told Reuters. “But the EU had no other choice if it wanted to stand up for its values.”

Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Gabriela Baczynska

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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