Brussels imposed its fifth round of sanctions on Belarus on December 2 in response to the migrant crisis engineered by Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko in November.
The new sanctions are designed to prevent a repeat of Lukashenko's ruse of flying in migrants, mostly from poor countries in the Middle East, and pushing them over the EU borders.
Josep Borrell, head of the EU’s foreign policy arm, said Thursday’s sanctions were “another example of our determination to act when human rights are violated”.
Some 10,000 migrants found themselves stranded on the Belarus-Polish border in November in freezing temperatures and defied by some 15,000 Polish border guards and troops while attempting to get into Poland. Most of the migrants hope to travel on to Germany or Sweden, which offer generous support packages for refugees.
The new EU sanctions target Belarusian individuals and legal entities involved in engineering the crisis. Belarusian state backed agency Tsentrkurort and the national carrier Belavia were instrumental in bringing in the migrants.
The crisis has dissipated in the last week as Iraq sent planes to repatriate all those citizens that wanted to return home; however, an estimated 1,000-2,000 migrants remain in Belarus and Polish border guards remain at their posts and report attempts to cross the border are ongoing, albeit few and smaller groups.
These are the fifth round of sanctions that have been imposed since Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in last year’s August 9 presidential election that is widely seen as massively rigged and which sparked the biggest public protests in the country since 1991. Another round of harsh sanctions were imposed after Lukashenko forced a commercial Ryanair flight to land in Minsk and arrested top opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend on May 23 this year.
The new sanctions bring the total number on the black list to 183 individuals and 26 legal entities. Eleven new companies and 17 individuals were added to the list and include the Belavia airline, as well as important industrial companies that earn hard currency for the republic. The fertiliser company Grodno Azot, tyre-maker Belshina and the national oil company Belarusneft were all included, as well as certain travel agencies and hotels.
Although Belavia was singled out for having “helped incite and organise illegal border crossings through Belarus to the EU”, the sanctions stopped short of a general flight ban to prevent the airline crossing EU territory, which had been suggested.
Amongst the individuals, law enforcement officials, border guard chiefs and judges were named. Syrian airline Cham Wings that actively flew migrants to Minsk was also included in the latest sanctions regime.
Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko said earlier that the country’s economy has been successfully coping with all the sanctions imposed so far.
The US Treasury also released details of new sanctions on Belarus, saying it would prohibit transactions involving new issues of Belarusian sovereign debt in the primary and secondary markets, as well as adding 20 Belarusian individuals – including Lukashenko’s second son Dzmitry – and 12 entities to its sanctions list.
“The migrant crisis is only the latest example of the [Lukashenko] regime’s repressive brutality and blatant disregard for international norms,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said commenting on the new US sanctions.
The US sanctions also targeted Tsentrkurort, as well as defence and security companies and the potash sector, and identified three aircraft as blocked property.
The UK government also added eight individuals to its sanctions list and imposed an asset freeze on Belaruskali, a state-owned potash producer that is one of the main sources of foreign currency for Lukashenko’s regime.