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9th Dec 2022

EU Minsk sanctions 'ineffective', warns exiled leader

  • Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya (r) with EU enlargement commissioner Olivér Varhelyi (Photo: European Commission)
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Exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya has said current EU sanctions against the Minsk regime have not been effective.

"Sanctions don't work effectively very much at the moment," she told reporters in Vienna on Monday (22 November), noting loopholes.

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But she said the upcoming fifth round of EU sanctions could start to bite, noting they should target state-own firms and banks.

"We estimate up to 40,000 have been detained since 2020, up to 2,000 imprisoned under political charges. At least 10 died," she said of the on-going crackdown in Belarus against pro-democratic forces.

She demanded zero interaction with Alexander Lukashenko, the autocratic leader of Belarus who won a sham presidential election last year.

The comment came on the back of recent phone calls between Germany's outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel and Lukashenko to ease a humanitarian crisis on the Belarus borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Tsikhanouskaya said she understood the urgency of the call given the crisis but that it was still odd from the point of view of Belarus nationals.

"It looked very strange because more than one year ago we called for no dialogue with the regime, no recognition," she said.

"Lukashenko's regime understands only the language of power, they don't understand diplomatic language," she said.

The EU is set to impose new sanctions in response to the escalating border tension, which has seen thousands of migrants and asylum seekers stranded in the cold, leading to a number of deaths.

New sanctions list soon

EU enlargement commissioner Olivér Varhelyi, speaking alongside Tsikhanouskaya and Austria's chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, hinted the latest list of sanctions could be published this week or later.

"We are working [on] ways to further step up our response in a very targeted and effective manner, something that you should expect from us still this week," he said.

When pressed, he later broadened the timeline to "within weeks".

Schallenberg voiced caution about engulfing private Western firms working in Belarus.

"Western companies, to a certain degree, are our lifeline to the west," he said.

"If they pull out tomorrow, which would be their own decision, then they would be replaced by other companies, from other countries when maybe rule of law, human rights and, you know, being responsible to the public is not an issue," he said.

The statements were made following a session at the Vienna-based International Conference on Belarus. No official representative from the Minsk regime was present.

Too early to 'de-escalate' Belarus crisis, says EU official

EU senior officials say Belarus needs to do much more than move migrants and asylum seekers into a shelter. They want UN aid agencies to have unhindered access to people stranded in Belarus. Poland is still refusing any humanitarian aid.

Minsk using migrants to 'divert focus from domestic crackdown'

Belarus authorities in late July launched a crackdown against civil society, says exiled Belarus youth leader Vorykhava. She said the regime in Minsk is now using the migrant border crisis to divert international attention away from repression inside the country.

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