The EU has imposed extensive economic sanctions on Belarus in response to what the EU calls “escalation of serious human rights violations”, including the detention of Roman Protasevich.
Thursday’s sanctions are aimed at the economy, but they are also aimed at hitting President Alexander Lukashenko and his allies.
On May 23, the Belarusian flight controller ordered a Ryanair jet to fly from Greece to Lithuania. After landing in Minsk, the journalist and activist Protasevich was arrested along with his girlfriend.
The latest sanctions target industries, including potash (a common fertilizer ingredient), tobacco and oil, and are much stricter than the measures imposed in the past.
“Petroleum products trade, potassium chloride [potash], Commodities used to produce or manufacture tobacco products are restricted,” the European Union said in a statement.
The sanctions also include prohibiting the sale of equipment and software that can be used to monitor the Internet and telephones to Belarus.
Belarus’s access to the EU’s capital markets will also be restricted, and the European Investment Bank will stop making payments to the country’s public sector.
EU increases pressure on Minsk
Since Lukashenko won his sixth term in controversial elections in August last year, the EU has gradually increased its sanctions.
This 27-nation group believed that Lukashenko’s victory last year was a fraud. Since the Ryanair incident, it has taken a tougher stance and put pressure on neighboring Lithuania for allegedly using immigrants and refugees. Belarusian opposition figures provide a safe haven and are one of Lukashenko’s most outspoken critics.
The diplomat told Reuters that the decision to impose tougher sanctions was made extremely quickly, reflecting the seriousness of the situation.
On Monday, the EU Foreign Minister imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on 78 Belarusian officials and frozen the assets of eight “entities”, usually companies, banks or associations.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated that these measures are aimed at “economic areas of particular importance to Belarus and the regime’s income.”
Currently, a total of 166 people and 15 entities in Belarus are subject to EU restrictions.
Since the flight scandal on May 23, the European Union has banned its airlines from flying over Belarusian territory and expelled Belarusian Airlines from its airspace.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have also imposed sanctions on senior Belarusian officials.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus stated that these measures will harm ordinary people and “border the declaration of economic war”. It warned that Minsk would be forced to take retaliatory measures, which would harm Western companies.
Belarus was shaken by months of protests triggered by Lukashenko’s re-election.
The authorities responded with a massive crackdown and tens of thousands of people were arrested. Most opposition leaders have been sentenced to prison or forced to leave the country.
Since being pulled off a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Protasevich has been marching on national television, apologizing tearfully for his behavior and praising Lukashenko.
His parents, members of the opposition, and others in the West believed that he was speaking under duress, and some said he showed signs of being beaten.
In another development, the opposition to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya) was jailed for her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky (Sergei Tikhanovsky). The trial began on Thursday.
Qihanusskaya, who was arrested in May last year and accused of organizing large-scale riots, once wanted to participate in the presidential election.
His trial is not open to the media.