ROUNDUP 3: EU and US sanctions for smuggling migrants to Belarus

(New: Belarusian reaction added.)

WASHINGTON / BRUSSELS (dpa-AFX) – The EU, the USA, Great Britain and Canada have decided on new sanctions against those involved in the smuggling of migrants to Belarus. The US Treasury Department announced on Thursday that the US punitive measures against 20 people and 12 companies and institutions were a “reaction to the blatant disregard for international norms” by the government of ruler Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko’s son Dmitri Lukashenko is now also on the US sanctions list.

Those affected “enabled the regime to smuggle migrants into the European Union (EU), participated in the ongoing suppression of human rights and democracy and supported the regime financially,” said the US Department. The United States’ new punitive measures would be imposed in coordination with partners and allies. 17 people as well as ten companies and a special border guard are affected by the new EU sanctions.

The leadership of the ex-Soviet republic is accused of deliberately bringing migrants into the country in order to then bring them to the border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia for onward travel to the EU. It is suspected that Lukashenko is trying to take revenge for the sanctions that the EU has imposed because of the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition. The main aim of the new sanctions is to ensure that not so many people can be brought to Belarus from poor or conflict-ridden countries to be smuggled into the EU.

The new EU sanctions affect the Belarusian state airline Belavia as well as tourism companies and tour operators from within the country itself. In addition, the Syrian airline Cham Wings and a passport and visa service from Turkey were punished with punitive measures from abroad.

Because of its support for Lukashenko, the EU also sanctioned three other Belarusian state-owned industrial companies. These include the petrochemical company Belorusneft, the vehicle tire manufacturer Belshina and the nitrogen compound manufacturer Grodno Azot.

Belarus immediately announced tough countermeasures in the direction of Brussels: “In response, we will (…) take tough, asymmetrical, but appropriate measures,” said the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. Minsk complained, among other things, that the punitive measures also affected companies that had nothing to do with the current crisis affecting migrants.

Potash companies in the fertilizer industry are also affected by the US sanctions. The sector with its strong export business is one of the pillars of the Lukashenko system. The Belarusian opposition had repeatedly called for sanctions to be issued against such system-preserving branches of industry in order to bring the power apparatus in Minsk to its knees. Lukashenko had always downplayed the previous EU and US sanctions. He had pointed out that Russia in particular, but also China, kept Belarus economically alive.

The US punitive measures also extend to the state-controlled Belarusian cargo airline Transaviaexport. Three aircraft are also affected by the sanctions. Any property owned by those affected in the United States will be frozen. US citizens are prohibited from doing business with them.

In the EU, political agreement in principle on the new sanctions had already been reached at a meeting of foreign ministers in mid-November. Great Britain and Canada also imposed further sanctions on Belarus. “We will not look the other way when opposition members, journalists and activists are beaten, imprisoned and killed, or driven into exile,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Thursday, according to a statement./cy/aha/mau/swe/DP/mis

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