EU reaches agreement on economic sanctions for Belarus, said Austria, diplomats

  • Sanctions against potash, oil and finance
  • Stricter measures follow the blacklist of people
  • Lukashenko has so far been insensitive to foreign pressure

BRUSSELS / VIENNA, June 18 (Reuters) – The European Union will ban new loans to Belarus after reaching an agreement on Friday on economic sanctions against Minsk as punishment for abandoning a flight to arrest a journalist, the Austrian Foreign Ministry and three Diplomats said.

Far-reaching economic sanctions would be the EU’s harshest reaction to date to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in May by the Belarusian authorities in order to arrest an exiled dissident.

Restrictions on the Belarusian financial sector, if agreed by EU governments at the political level, include: a ban on new loans, a ban on EU investors to trade securities or buy short-term bonds, and a ban on EU banks, To provide investment services. The EU export credits will also end.

The agreement reached on Friday overcame objections from Austria, whose Raiffeisen Bank International (RBIV.VI) is a big player in Belarus through its subsidiary Priorbank.

The heads of state and government of the EU will meet next Thursday for a planned summit. It was not yet clear whether they would agree to the deal made by knowledgeable officials.

“With this agreement, the EU is sending a clear and targeted signal against the unbearable repression of the Belarusian regime,” said the Austrian Foreign Ministry.

President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has argued that the journalist who got off the plane on May 23, Roman Protasevich, planned a rebellion and accused the West of waging a hybrid war against him.

The EU, NATO, Great Britain, Canada and the United States have voiced their outrage that a flight between EU members Greece and Lithuania had to land in Minsk and that the authorities took the 26-year-old exiled dissident along with his 23 have arrested year-old girlfriend.

KALI, TOBACCO, OIL

EU experts tasked with drafting sanctions agreed on a ban on the export of communications equipment that could be used for espionage and a stricter arms embargo on hunting rifles.

They also agreed on restrictions on EU purchases of tobacco products, as well as oil and oil-related products from Belarus, and a ban on the import of potash, a major Belarusian export.

There will be exceptions to the financial sanctions for humanitarian purposes, while private savings of Belarusian citizens will not be affected, said one of the diplomats.

Closely linked to Russia, which sees Belarus as a buffer country against NATO expansion, Lukashenko has been insensitive to foreign pressure since last August’s controversial elections, which the opposition and the West believe were manipulated. Massive street protests have little impact on his seizure of power.

Since last year, the EU has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on individuals, including Lukashenko, frozen their assets in the EU and banned travel. On Monday, foreign ministers will approve another round of blacklisting 78 people and eight units, diplomats said.

The EU governments now want to hit sectors that are central to the Belarusian economy in order to really punish Lukashenko.

The export of potash – a potassium-rich salt used in fertilizers – is an important source of foreign currency for Belarus, and the state-owned company Belarus claims to produce 20% of the world’s supply.

The EU statistics agency said the bloc imported € 1.2 billion (US $ 1.5 billion) in chemicals last year, including potash from Belarus, and more than € 1 billion in crude oil and related products like fuels and lubricants.

Germany has announced that it will continue the sanctions until free elections are held in Belarus and political prisoners are released.

Reporting by Robin Emmott and Francois Murphy

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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