EU close to agreement on new round of sanctions on Belarus, diplomats say

The European Union is close to imposing more sanctions on Belarus, targeting some 30 individuals and entities, including the Foreign Minister and Belarusian airline Belavia, with approval next week, three EU diplomats said.

The EU and NATO accuse President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as a weapon to pressure the West by sending people fleeing the Middle East to Minsk and then to the borders of Poland and the Baltic countries.

The new round of sanctions is aimed at Belarusian officials who, according to the EU, have organized migrant arrivals in revenge for the sanctions imposed on Minsk for human rights abuses.

On Wednesday, in a crucial step, the 27 EU ambassadors will formally agree that the growing number of migrants along the Belarusian border with Poland amounts to a “hybrid war” and can serve as a legal basis on which to build sanctions. .

Minsk denies such operations and rejects all Western accusations of wrongdoing. So far, sanctions on top officials have not been effective in weakening the government of Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and is a close ally of Moscow.

Migrants gather near a barbed wire fence in an attempt to cross the border into Poland in the Grodno region, Belarus, on November 8, 2021 (credit: LEONID SCHEGLOV / BELTA / HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

EU states are also considering expanding economic sanctions imposed on Belarus in July, targeting the local reinsurance sector and its main state-owned company BelarusRe, diplomats said.

The fifth package of asset freezes and travel bans on Belarusian state officials and companies would be the EU’s latest response to the worsening standoff with Belarus over what the West and the Belarusian opposition was a presidential election rigged in August 2020 by Lukashenko.

EU officials, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, are calling for even stricter measures, including international airlines accused of sending migrants to Minsk, who are then transported to the Belarusian border.

Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, who defended Belarus’ record at the United Nations General Assembly in September, is a senior official who will be sanctioned because his ministry is accused of handing out Belarusian visas to non-EU citizens, especially Syrians and Iraqis, diplomats said. .

The EU banned state airline Belavia from access to EU airspace and airports after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land to arrest a Belarusian opposition journalist. Now, direct sanctions on the airline would prevent it from being able to lease planes from Irish, Romanian and Danish companies.

However, there is a debate in the EU about whether sanctions should only apply to new leases or existing contracts.

More sanctions this month would bring the total number of people under asset freezes and travel bans in Belarus to nearly 200 people, including Lukashenko and his children, as well as more than a dozen institutions and companies.

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