- Economic sanctions hit potash, tobacco, oil, finance
- The rare EU rapid reaction in the divided bloc
- The forced landing of a Ryanair flight outrages the EU
BRUSSELS, June 24 (Reuters) – The European Union imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Belarus for the first time on Thursday, targeting its main export industries and access to finance a month after forcing a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk.
The measures include banning EU companies from importing goods or doing business with Belarusian companies in sectors such as banking, petroleum products and potash, a salt used in fertilizers which is the main export of the country.
The sanctions are much stricter than measures imposed in the past, which consisted mainly of blacklists of Belarusian officials and have had little or no impact on the behavior of President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994.
The most important measure for the Belarusian economy, the new sanctions ban EU companies from transporting potash. Belarus will now have to find other countries and ports to ship its main export via the Baltic Sea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is Lukashenko’s closest ally, but Russia does not have sufficient port capacity to handle Belarusian fertilizers or his own, according to the data.
EU leaders were outraged by the interception of the Ryanair plane flying between Athens and Vilnius on May 23. Belarusian authorities arrested a dissident journalist and his girlfriend after the plane landed, in an incident that Western countries have called state piracy. Lukashenko said the interception was justified to prevent a rebellion in Belarus.
Lukashenko being so far insensitive to foreign pressure on a presidential election which opponents say was rigged last August and was followed by a crackdown on street protests, the EU has said it wants to step up the pressure. Read more
Diplomats said the decision to impose tougher sanctions was taken with unusual swiftness, reflecting the seriousness with which governments have viewed the Ryanair incident.
‘NO OTHER CHOICE’
Under the new sanctions, Europeans cannot “directly or indirectly sell, supply, transfer or export to anyone in Belarus” communications equipment, technology or software that could be used for surveillance or law enforcement purposes.
Trade in petroleum products, potash and tobacco products is prohibited. Access to EU capital markets is now limited, the EU said, with a ban on trading Belarusian securities with maturities of more than 90 days.
European banks cannot provide insurance or reinsurance, nor new loans or credits to the Belarusian government or to public bodies and agencies. The European Investment Bank will stop lending to the country.
Since the Ryanair incident, the EU has also banned overflights of Belarusian territory by its airlines and banned Belarusian carriers from its airspace.
The EU, US, Britain and Canada also expanded their blacklists this week, with the EU now banning 166 people from traveling or doing business in the bloc, including the man from Russian business Mikhail Gutseriyev, Belarus’ largest foreign investor.
EU states can grant Belarus exemptions from sanctions for humanitarian aid, environmental projects and nuclear security, according to the EU’s official journal.
One of six former Soviet republics to which the EU has offered money, technical assistance and market access, Belarus is sidelined until Lukashenko accepts new elections and releases political prisoners .
Despite fears that economic sanctions could bring Belarus closer to its Russian ally, EU foreign ministers have said they must respond to what they see as unacceptable repressive behavior.
“I do not foresee a democratic transition soon in Belarus,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba told Reuters. “But the EU had no other choice if it wanted to defend its values.”
Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Gabriela Baczynska
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