Die Europese Unie has extended sanctions against Belarus, with pledges to make Alexander Lukashenko’s regime “run dry”, following last month’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight to arrest a dissident.
EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to add 86 people and entities to the bloc’s sanctions list, as a punishment for the arrest of the journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who were detained after being hauled off a flight from Athens to Vilnius.
Ministers also endorsed a plan for sanctions targeting the Belarusian economy, in an attempt to intensify pressure on Lukashenko’s regime.
“We will no longer only sanction individuals but also areas of the economy which are important to the regime. We want to make Lukashenko’s regime run dry financially,” said Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a statement on the German foreign ministry’s Twitter account.
“Sanctions are a way of putting pressure on the government of Belarus and these are going to hurt. These are going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, het aan verslaggewers gesê.
Borrell said economic sanctions “will be approved after consideration of the European Council” of EU leaders, who meet for a two-day summit on Thursday.
Officials are working on sanctions to hit Belarus’s export industries, including oil, tobacco and potash, a salt used in fertiliser, which is a big source of foreign currency for Belarus. In a bid to further choke off funding to Lukashenko’s regime, EU banks will also be banned from offering loans or investment services.
Broad agreement on economic sanctions was established last Friday, after EU member states dropped final objections.
Oostenryk, which has banking interests in Belarus, rejected reports it had been blocking a deal, arguing it wanted to ensure sanctions did not hurt the Belarusian people.
“We want to hit the state-affiliated economic sector, those responsible, not the people in Belarus, who are suffering anyway,” said the Austrian foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg. “We have to tighten the thumbscrews after this callous action of state air piracy.”
The latest sanctions on 78 individuals and eight entities are the fourth round of restrictive measures the EU has imposed on Belarus, since Lukashenko embarked on a brutal crackdown to stay in power after disputed elections last August.
The EU and UK have banned their airlines flying over Belarus, since the arrest of Pratasevich. The Belarusian opposition is worried for the dissident’s safety after a series of appearances on state TV and at press conferences, where he has praised Lukashenko.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition leader, has said it was evident Pratasevich was speaking under pressure. Sy het gese: “He’s been taken hostage in an act of state terrorism.”
Tskihanouskaya, who has been urging the EU to step up sanctions, met EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday morning.
The latest EU move turns the spotlight to the UK, where the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has said further sanctions were being considered. British-based companies, including British American Tobacco and Rolls-Royce are among the UK-based firms they have said they are willing to take action over their business interests in Belarus, following pressure from Belarusian dissidents.