Belarus opposition calls on EU to close sanctions ‘loopholes’
An aide to the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on the EU to “close loopholes” in its sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
The EU approved sanctions last week targeting industries that bankroll the regime to punish the Belarusian president over the forced landing of a Ryanair flight to arrest a dissident, but promises to make it “run dry” have been called into question after it emerged that they apply only to about 15% of Belarusian potash exports to the bloc.
The potassium-rich salt used in fertiliser is a big earner for Belarus, but some EU member states feared cutting off Belarusian supplies too quickly would hurt European farmers, while others were worried about boosting the potash industry in Russia.
The EU has conceded the impact of potash sanctions will be relatively mild, but says the screw can be tightened in future. Its approach came as a surprise, however, to the Belarusian opposition.
Franak Viačorka, an opposition politician and adviser to Tikhanouskaya, said it would not work: “Only full comprehensive sanctions will cause Lukashenko to change behaviour. Semi-sanctions or half-measures only will harm,” he said.
A gradual approach “allows the regime and its propaganda to say, look, their sanctions don’t work. They can’t do anything and if we want to hijack other aeroplanes we will do that.”
Viačorka also criticised the decision not to apply sanctions retroactively. European firms that signed contracts to import Belarusian potash before 25 June, the day the sanctions were agreed, can continue to do so. “We really hope that the EU will reconsider their description of the sanctions, that the next meeting of the European Council will make adjustments, and will close all the loopholes that exist in this current sanctions regime,” he said.
EU officials say the sanctions on Belarus are among the toughest it has ever imposed. Of the 22 countries subject to EU sanctions, only those imposed on Russia and Syria target the economy.
Brussels prefers to sanction individuals and organisations close to repressive regimes, because targeting industries without hurting local people can be difficult. To date, 166 Belarusian officials and 15 organisations close to Lukashenko have had asset freezes and travel bans imposed since last August’s elections which Lukashenko claimed to have won and subsequently embarked on a bloody crackdown.
The economic sanctions throw down the gauntlet to the US, the UK and Canada, which last week extended their lists of people and organisations subject to asset freezes and travel bans in a coordinated move with the EU. The UK has said it is considering economic sanctions.