Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

EU sanctions causing pain for Lukashenko

EU countries are probing who else to hit with sanctions in President Aleksander Lukashenko's nomenklatura. But the existing blacklist of 245 people is already causing discontent inside his ranks.

"There are still plenty of people left to add. The heads of mission in Minsk are working all the time, sending lists of names to Brussels ... New names could appear on the [sanctions] list in the next few days or weeks," an EU diplomat said.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Police swoop down on protesters: Belarusians are being harassed by short-term arrests in a bid to avoid EU counter-measures (Photo: charter97.org)

Some potential targets include members of the government said to have direct involvement in Lukashenko's private money-making schemes: Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich, deputy prime minister Vladimir Semashko and border guard chief Igor Raczkowski.

Belarusian oligarchs believed to pay tithes to Lukashenko in return for permission to do business are also in the firing line. The roll call includes: Yury Chizh, who runs the Triple group of companies active in chemicals, health spas and retail; construction baron Alexander Shakutin; tobacco and retail millionaire Paul Topuzidis; and milk and seafood seller Aleksander Moshensky.

Day-to-day bullying of opposition activists is seen as enough reason by EU countries to keep turning the screw. But a tough reaction is almost inevitable if Lukashenko adds Ales Bilalitski - a prominent human rights campaigner currently on trial - to his set of 15 political prisoners.

Some believe the EU sanctions are not causing the 57-year-old leader to lose much sleep - Dzianis Melyantsou, an analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, said officials on the EU blacklist see it as a "manifestation of the highest loyalty toward the president."

And there are many ways for Lukashenko to avoid losing income from the EU's asset freezes and commercial bans.

His sons, Dmitry and Viktor, are on the EU blacklist. But their positions on the National Olympic Committee of Belarus - not covered by EU sanctions - gives them access to money laundering structures. Opposition media also reports that Viktor's wife, Liliya Lukashenko, is using the Cyprus-registered firm, Eastleigh Trading, to secretly invest family money in Minsk real estate.

One EU ambassador in Minsk said the sanctions regime is causing distress, however.

"There is a symbolic aspect - people feel marked out as having done something wrong," the contact said. "It is working: They cannot go to Vilnius, to Warsaw or other EU cities to accompany their husbands or wives for shopping. People are angry because they think they are suffering due to someone else's policies."

In one marker of effectiveness, at least three people on the EU blacklist have hired lawyers to lodge appeals at the EU court in Luxembourg. One of them, oligarch Dmitry Peftiev, whose business interests in the EU were hit in June, is spending money on top Lithuanian law firm Lawin to fight his case.

An opposition activist who asked to remain anonymous told this website: "The oligarchs use Lukashenko as a shield for their operations. As soon as he becomes a problem for them, or no longer useful, they will kick him out ... the question is, who could replace him?"

The Bilalitski case aside, diplomats also noted that Lukashenko has changed methods to try to get under the EU radar. One contact said: "Instead of jailing people for years at a time, police are arresting them for three days or 10 days, letting them go, then arresting them again. The thinking is, it's not enough of a big deal for us to react. But how can anybody live like this?"

The nuclear option is to go for economic sanctions against major exporters to the EU such as fertiliser firm Belaruskali and oil products company Belnaftakhim.

It is not on the cards for now, not least because EU countries Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland do big business with Belarus - over €6 billion worth last year.

The mantra of the anti-economic-sanctions group in the EU is that the measures would hurt ordinary Belarusians. But opposition activists do not buy the line.

"This is the same thing that Lukashenko's lobbyists in Europe are saying. But it's not true. Belarusians already have such a tough situation that if they have to live on $50 a month instead of $100 it wouldn't be a problem. It would be a problem for the nomenklatura, who use this money to distribute favours and influence," independent Belarusian journalist Pavel Marozau said.

Marozau noted that the main impact on ordinary people from EU sanctions so far is on hunters and sportsmen, who used to buy rifles in Lithuania but who now have to get their Lithuanian friends to buy the equipment for them instead.

EU offers to buy Belarus for $9bn

EU leaders have promised authoritarian Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko $9 billion if he frees political prisoners and holds normal elections.

Hockey-loving EU states oppose Belarus championship ban

The EU is to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on another 15-or-so Belarusian officials. But harsher measures, such as economic sanctions or blocking the 2014 hockey finals in Minsk, are not on the table for now.

Opinion

Belarus as a permanent challenge for the EU

A new project for economic integration proposed by Russia's prime minister to create a Eusian Union based on the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus is a major challenge for the European Union.

Guns blaze in Ukraine as leaders meet in Paris

Hundreds of explosions and bursts of small arms fire were reported on the contact line in east Ukraine, as France prepares to host the first peace summit on the war in three years.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary asked to apologise after council leak
  2. MEPs: Finnish budget proposal 'impossible to implement'
  3. EP committee supports 'Future of EU Conference'
  4. EU survey: climate change must be parliament's priority
  5. Zahradil resigns as rapporteur on EU-Vietnam trade deal
  6. Russia plans 'Arctic Air Defence" with S-400 missiles
  7. Belgium: King does another round of consultations
  8. Thousands protest Orban's theatre clampdown

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Hungary quizzed over EU rules amid twitter row
  2. Spanish King meets party leaders to break deadlock
  3. EU alarmed by prospects of battle for Tripoli
  4. EU must manage climate and industry together
  5. Does Malta's Labour Party now belong in S&D?
  6. Green Deal targets pit Left against Right in parliament
  7. Human rights abusers to face future EU blacklists
  8. Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us