Monday

23rd Jul 2018

Hockey-loving EU states oppose Belarus championship ban

  • Hockey, politics and business are connected in Belarus (Photo: Patxi64)

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 ice hockey finals in Minsk, are not on the table for now.

EU foreign ministers are to add the new names to an existing register of 175 nomenklatura members at a meeting in Brussels on Monday (23 May), a senior EU diplomat told this website.

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The additions - mostly of judges and prosecutors involved in putting opposition activists in prison - will put Belarus on par with Zimbabwe (197) in terms of people labelled persona non grata.

EU ministers will at the same time hold "initial talks" about targeted economic sanctions against state-owned Belarusian companies. But the diplomat said "it could take months" before there is agreement on which firms to strike.

EUobserver understands that tyre maker Belshina and industrial trucks producer BelAZ are in the EU crosshairs, as well as oil, fertiliser and weapons firms Belaruskali, Belneftekhim, Beltechexport and Triple.

Russia's offer on Thursday to loan Belarus $3 billion could take the sting out of any EU economic measures.

Meanwhile, a recent European Parliament proposal to make the International Ice-Hockey Federation (IIHF) in Switzerland pull the 2014 world cup finals in Minsk is getting some traction.

The Lithuanian foreign ministry likes it. Switzerland is also interested. "A possible stop of the hockey championship is being examined," foreign ministry spokesman Georg Farago said.

The move has the capacity to hit President Alexander Lukashenko where it hurts.

The president loves ice hockey and uses sport for propaganda. Lukashenko cronies run most of the country's sports associations and are involved in multi-million projects to build new highways, a stadium and luxury hotels to host the games.

"Sports, politics and business are closely connected. If the hockey team loses an international game the players are punished - their money is taken away - because it's bad for the image of the country," an EU diplomat stationed in Minsk said.

The parliament project has a long way to go, however.

Szymon Szemberg, a spokesman for the IIHF, told this website that during its congress in Bratislava this week none of the 69 national delegations mentioned the EU parliament's idea. He added that third parties, such as EU institutions or the Swiss government, have no power to make them change their plans.

At least two of the several hockey-loving EU member states are also against the move.

"We shouldn't mix sports and politics ... such a decision would punish ordinary people in Belarus more than the elite," a Latvian diplomat said. "We think such things should be left up to the sports authorities not to governments," a Finnish diplomat said.

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