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EU ready to impose more sanctions against Belarus

  • Belarus police holding EU funded drones (Photo: sudexpert.gov.by)
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The European Commission says it is ready to propose extra sanctions against Belarus in response to the border tensions over migrants.

"We stand ready to adopt further measures in response to unacceptable actions of the regime," EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson told MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (5 October).

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Current EU sanctions in Belarus span 166 people and 15 entities, as well as targeted economic restrictions introduced over the summer.

It also banned Belarusian air-carriers after Minsk forcibly re-routed a RyanAir flight to apprehend a Belarus opposition journalist.

And last week, the European Commission announced measures to reimpose visas on Belarus government officials wishing to travel to the EU.

"There is no way back to business as usual. There is no other way than ensuring accountability for the crimes committed," said Johansson, noting some 700 political prisoners are currently being detained by the regime.

She said migrants were being lured to Belarus in trips organised by a state tourist company, which was pocketing deposits and making them stay in state-approved hotels.

"[They] are then transported to the border in unmarked minivans by men in unmarked uniforms," she said.

The EU, in 2016, softened its approach against Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko despite widespread human-rights abuses, a move activists said only emboldened the regime.

More recently, in September 2020, Lithuanian police handed over 15 EU-funded surveillance drones to the Belarusian State Committee for Forensic Science, out of an €850,000 neighbourhood project also handled by Latvia.

Now the tough talk comes as the regime shuffles mostly Afghan and Iraqi migrants and refugees to borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, leading to at least six deaths, border fences, and walls.

MEPs are also piling on pressure for further sanctions against Belarus and will vote on a resolution later this week.

The socialist S&D group wants the Council, representing member states, to adopt the extra sanctions at its next meeting on 21 and 22 October 2021. In a statement, Polish socialist MEP, Robert Biedroń said loopholes on potash and petroleum products needed to be closed.

This also included cutting off money flows to the regime, adding a lot more people onto the sanctions lists, as well as all remaining state-owned banks and firms, such as Belaruskali and Beltelecom.

The Greens have demanded similar measures, but also wanted "effective safeguards" against the sale of Belarusian nuclear power and an end to all EU energy infrastructure investments in Belarus.

The liberal Renew Europe group wanted the International Monetary Fund to stop helping the regime and freeze all cooperation.

For its part, the Left group has said sanctions were counter-productive and instead insisted on the humane treatment of migrants caught between European and Belarusian border guards.

MEPs are set to vote on the matter on Thursday.

And in the meantime, Belarusian MPs, on Monday, voted to suspend a readmission agreement with the EU, meaning that the country cannot legally take back people who crossed into Poland or Lithuania, in an added poke in the eye of European concerns.

EU states want more Belarus sanctions

EU heads of state and government on Friday, at a summit in Brussels, demanded more sanctions against Belarus "as a matter of urgency" and want the European Commission to tweak rules governing borders to tackle "state-sponsored smuggling".

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