Sunday

20th Jan 2019

EU fine-tuning next round of Belarus sanctions

Diplomats in Brussels are carrying out due diligence on economic sanctions on Belarus as President Aleksander Lukashenko hands out prison sentences.

Heads of mission in Minsk have sent to the EU capital a preliminary list of individuals and commercial entities to be covered by the new measures.

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  • Protester confronts police on 19 December, when the crackdown began (Photo: mb7art)

Diplomatic sources say petroleum products companies Belneftekhim and Triple, arms firm Beltechexport and fertiliser maker Belaruskalii are in the frame.

"The list is not yet at the implementable stage. So far it's based on 'he said, she said'-type evidence. We have to make sure the companies really are owned by the people we think they are," an EU diplomat said. "The sanctions are being rolled out bit by bit so that we can keep up the pressure in reaction to developments."

The latest round of sanctions - the third since the post-election crackdown on 19 December - are designed to hurt President Lukashenko's state budget without precipitating a crisis in the country's fragile economy.

But they are unlikely to damage the president's private fortune, said to be salted away in Russian and Ukrainian banks, fish and real estate companies as well as offshore accounts in Russia and in at least one EU country.

"To track down these funds would take a serious intelligence operation and there is no EU member state right now willing to commit resources to such a task," the EU diplomat added.

The new list may be ready in time for EU foreign ministers to rubber stamp it at their meeting in Brussels next week (23 May), with the jailing on Saturday for five years of leading opposition figure Andrei Sannikov likely to galvanise agreement.

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton in a statement at the weekend noted the "readiness of the EU to consider further targeted restrictive measures in all areas of co-operation."

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle called the Sannikov trial "an expression of the political will of President Lukashenko." David Lidington, UK minister for Europe, added: "this trial has marked a new low for the rule of law in Belarus."

EU parliament President Jerzy Buzek earlier called on the International Ice Hockey Federation to strip Belarus of the 2014 ice hockey world cup.

More than 20 opposition personalities have received years-long sentences since the crackdown began.

The 57-year-old Sannikov, who was beaten by police on the night of 19 December, said that during the past five months in prison he was made to sleep on the floor of his cell, subjected to degrading full body searches and threatened by the KGB, Lukashenko's secret police, with reprisals against his family.

As he was being led away he urged the outside world to "take care of my relatives."

His wife and award-winning government-critical journalist, Irina Khalip, is to go on trial this week.

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