The European Union has imposed large-scale economic sanctions on Belarus in response to what the bloc has called “the escalation of serious human rights violations,” including the detention of Roman Protasevich.
Thursday’s sanctions are aimed at the economy, but are also intended to hit President Alexander Lukashenko and his allies.
Protasevich, a journalist and militant, was arrested along with his friend on May 23 after Belarusian flight controllers ordered a Ryanair jet traveling from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk.
The latest sanctions are aimed at industry, including potash – a common ingredient in fertilizer, tobacco and oil, and are much stricter than measures imposed in the past.
“Trade in petroleum products and potassium chloride.” [potash], and goods used for the production or manufacture of tobacco products are restricted, ”the EU said in a statement.
The sanctions also include a ban on the sale in Belarus of equipment and software that can be used to monitor the internet and phone calls.
Belarus’ access to EU capital markets will also be limited and payments to the country’s public sector by the European Investment Bank will be interrupted.
The EU increases the pressure on Minsk
The EU has gradually added sanctions since Lukashenko won a sixth term last August in disputed elections.
The 27-nation bloc, which sees Lukashenko’s victory last year as fraudulent, has taken a tougher line since the Ryanair incident, and over the country’s alleged use of migrants and refugees by pressure neighboring Lithuania, which provided a safe haven to Belarusian opposition figures. and is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics.
Diplomats told Reuters news agency that the decision to impose tougher sanctions was taken with extraordinary speed, reflecting the gravity of the situation.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 78 Belarusian officials and froze the assets of eight “entities”, which are usually companies, banks or associations.
Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said the measures target “economic areas that have a particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s revenues.”
A total of 166 people and 15 entities in Belarus are currently under restrictive EU measures.
Since the May 23 flight scandal, the EU has banned overcrowding of Belarusian territory by its airlines and banned Belarusian carriers from its airspace.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have also imposed sanctions on senior Belarusian officials.
The Belarusian Foreign Minister said the measures would hurt the common people and that they would “limit them to the declaration of an economic war”. He warned that Minsk would be forced to take revenge measures that would hurt Western companies.
Belarus has been rocked by months of protests fueled by Lukashenko’s re-election.
Authorities have responded with a massive crackdown that has seen tens of thousands of people arrested. Most of the opposition leaders have been imprisoned or forced to leave the country.
Since being shot down by the Ryanair flight in Minsk, Protasevich has been spotted on state TV, apologizing in tears for his actions and praising Lukashenko.
His parents, members of the opposition and others in the West believe he spoke under misfortune, and some say there was a sign that he had been beaten.
In a separate development, the trial of Sergei Tikhanovsky – the imprisoned husband of the leader of the Belarusian opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, began on Thursday.
Tsikhanouskaya, who was arrested in May last year and accused of organizing mass riots, among other things, had wanted to run in the presidential election.
His trial is closed to the media.