EU measures to ‘tighten thumbscrews’ on Belarus


LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) -The European Union will impose travel bans and asset freezes on 86 Belarusian individuals and companies on Monday and is preparing economic sanctions that Austria said would “tighten the thumbscrews” on President Alexander Lukashenko.

Outraged at the forced landing of a Ryanair passenger plane in Minsk on May 23 to arrest a dissident journalist, EU foreign ministers will blacklist transport, defence and air traffic officials, EU diplomats and officials said.

“Today we will approve the package of new sanctions, which is a wider package, about 86 people and entities,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters as he detailed a fourth round of measures before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

With Lukashenko so far impervious to foreign pressure, EU states are also soon set to impose economic sanctions on Belarus’ financial, oil, tobacco and potash sectors, after a provisional deal was agreed on Friday.

Belarus is one of the world’s top exporters of potash, used in fertilisers. The EU imported 1.2 billion euros’ ($1.5 billion) worth of chemicals including potash from Belarus last year, as well as more than 1 billion euros’ worth of crude oil and related products such as fuel and lubricants. Belarus also relies on loans from European commercial and development banks.

“We have to tighten the thumbscrews after this callous action of state air piracy,” Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters.

“We want to hit the state-affiliated economic sector, those responsible, not the people in Belarus, who are suffering anyway.”

After 27 years in power, Lukashenko is accused of rigging the presidential election last August and then imprisoning pro-democracy protesters.

The forced landing of the Ryanair flight last month to arrest Roman Protasevich and his student girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who were on board, has galvanized an often divided EU into action.

Lukashenko says Protasevich was organising a rebellion.


While the economic sanctions still need to be finalised to withstand any court challenge, Borrell said EU leaders would discuss giving political approval at a summit on Thursday.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said it was up to the EU to show that “state terror has no place in the 21st century.” Germany’s Heiko Maas said despite the impact on EU business from cutting ties with Belarus, Europe had to demonstrate to Lukashenko his actions were unacceptable.

Restrictions on the Belarusian financial sector are set to include: a ban on new loans, a ban on EU investors from trading securities or buying short-term bonds and a ban on EU banks from providing investment services. EU export credits will also end, although private savings will not be targeted.

The bloc will ban exports to Belarus of any communications equipment that could be used for spying, and tighten an arms embargo to include rifles used by biathletes.

Monday’s individual sanctions will hit 76 Belarusians, including the transport and defence ministers, as well as eight state entities, diplomats said. The names will be released later on Monday in the EU’s Official Journal.

Diplomats said the measures could be in coordination with similar sanctions by other Western countries, such as Britain and the United States, although they did not have details.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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