Thursday

26th May 2022

Analysis

Latest EU sanctions to bite Belarus dictator's income

  • Pro-democracy protests began after rigged elections in August (Photo: Homoatrox)

Belarusian opposition leaders have broadly welcomed the EU's latest round of sanctions on regime henchmen, but some said they ought to have gone further.

The new EU blacklist adopted on Monday (21 June) included pro-regime business barons Mikhail Gutseriev, Alexei Oleksin, Alexandr Shatrov, Sergei Teterin, and Alexander Zaitsev.

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It included Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko's son, Dmitry, and his daughter-in-law, Liliya, said to be involved in his corruption schemes.

It also covered five firms said to be involved in smuggling contraband, such as cigarettes, into the EU, or Russia-banned EU goods, such as cheeses, into Russia: Bremino, Globalcustom, Logex, New Oil Company, and Sohra.

The list covered a university vice-chancellor and three rectors said to have denounced or expelled activist students.

It targeted a handful of pro-Lukashenko propagandists, such as his TV chief and a columnist for his pet newspaper, Sovietska Belarus.

It struck out at those directly responsible for Belarus' hijacking of a Ryanair flight last month to snatch an activist - the defence minister, transport minister, air-force chief, and air-traffic control chief.

And it listed dozens of judges, prosecutors, investigators, and police chiefs responsible for persecuting pro-democracy protesters.

Speaking to press in Brussels the same day, Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya welcomed the move.

The "unprecedented" list sent a "powerful" signal which would "influence the regime, they will have to look for dialogue with civil society," she said.

"Sanctions are more powerful when they are united", she added, after Canada, the UK, and the US also imposed similar, though less far-reaching measures, the same day.

Speaking to EUobserver from Warsaw, where he lives in exile, Anatoly Kotov, another senior activist, said the sanctions were "very sharp" and were mainly designed to hurt the Lukashenko nomenklatura's income.

The smuggling money went directly into the president's off-budget black bank accounts, he said.

"The sanctions also destroyed any future business prospects in Europe of the people whom they named," Kotov added.

Speaking from exile in Estonia, another activist, who asked not to be named, said sanctions on academic leaders would play an important role.

"This will really support the students and discourage university authorities from kicking out other students," he said.

But he said it was a waste of EU time to go after judges and policemen.

"Yes, you can show what scumbags they are and that there's no rule-of-law in Belarus, but even if they leave their posts, they'll just be replaced with others," he said.

For her part, Natalia Koliada, the strategy director of NGO Creative Politics Hub, an opposition activist in exile in London, criticised the short list of oligarchs, however.

There were at least 20 more regime bag-men who ought to have gone on the blacklist, she told EUobserver.

And it should have included their family members, to whom they transferred their assets to evade EU measures as soon as they were imposed.

"I don't understand what the EU is waiting for and why they don't just do it [hit Lukashenko's private income] properly in one go - the Ryanair hijacking shows he's already become a danger to all of Europe, not just Belarusians," she said.

"The EU needs a more flexible, agile sanctions system, because that's how the mafia structures work," she said.

Koliada also criticised the UK and US sanctions for not going far enough.

With Lukashenko believed to keep most of his money in Abu Dhabi, Koliada said the US had the power to pressure the Emirates to seize his loot.

She called the UK list "unprecedented hypocrisy" and a "disaster" because it did not name Gutseriev and his "clan" - the most important of Lukashenko's financial sponsors.

But for his part, Kotov said the reason the EU did not go after all the money men in one go was in order to encourage defections and dissent among those who were not yet listed.

"They all know this won't be the last round of EU sanctions", he noted.

Two previously pro-Lukashenko business chiefs have already reached out to the opposition in Poland to talk about switching sides, Kotov's associate, Evgeny Medvedev, who also lives in Warsaw, told EUobserver.

And the EU blacklists will not be so easy to circumvent as Koliada might fear after the EU also imposes economic sanctions on Belarus banks, oil, tobacco, and fertiliser firms later this week, as expected, Kotov noted.

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