BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers will approve today a fresh set of sanctions against scores of officials in Belarus and prepare a series of measures aimed at hurting the country’s economy, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
The EU has ratcheted up sanctions since President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term last August in elections slammed as fraudulent by the 27-nation bloc. The measures have targeted people accused of electoral misconduct and responsibility for the police crackdown that followed.
But the EU has tightened ranks further since Belarus’ authorities forced a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk last month and by what appears to be the use of migrants to pressure Lithuania, which has provided safe-haven to opposition figures and is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics in Europe.
“We will approve the package of new sanctions, which is a wider package,” Borrell told reporters in Luxembourg where he was chairing the ministerial meeting. He said asset freezes and travel bans will be slapped on a total of around 86 people and organizations.
Diplomats have said that a number of those targeted are linked to the May 23 incident that saw a Ryanair flight traveling from Greece to Lithuania diverted to Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was on board the airliner.
The EU has already banned Belarus airline companies from flying over the bloc’s territory or using its airports.
Borrell said the ministers will also prepare a raft of economic sanctions for EU leaders to endorse at a summit on Thursday. “These are going to hurt, going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily,” he said.
The measures are likely to include action against the export of potash – a common fertilizer ingredient – tobacco industry exports and petroleum products, among others.
“We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions — meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s income,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
“We want to make very, very clear to Lukashenko that there is no going back,” Maas said.
Maas said the 27 EU countries stand united on sanctions “We are really very, very determined not to budge, not just today — nothing about this will change in the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said EU countries had thought only a month ago that it still might be possible to reason with Lukashenko but that “the mood is different now.”
Landsbergis accused Minsk of “weaponizing” migration flows. He said around 500 people are sheltering in Lithuania, most from Iraq, and that Belarus border guards brought 30 refugees to the border in recent days. He said Lithuania has limited capacity for them and is building a tent camp.
To kick-off Monday’s meeting, the ministers held a working breakfast with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate to challenge Lukashenko in last year’s election.