April 15 – April 21, 2024
Belarus-Russia relations

Quest for Overcoming the Sanction Obstacle Course

The situation has not changed
Quest for Overcoming the Sanction Obstacle Course

Minsk is actively promoting the idea that the Western sanction regime has failed. The restrictions imposed on Belarus and Russia allegedly did not meet expectations. However, it is quite obvious that Minsk is very concerned about the current situation and is busy developing new maneuvers to circumvent the restrictions. Western media and expert institutes are uncovering new schemes to overcome sanctions against Russia with the help of Belarus.

The Polish Institute of Economics published material on how Belarus compensated for the damage to the Russian automotive industry from European sanctions. According to expert calculations, in 2023, the volume of car sales from the EU to Belarus reached EUR 262 billion, 7.4 times more than in 2021—before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

For sanctioned goods, the growth is even higher. For example, deliveries of cars with engine capacities over 2,500 cubic centimeters increased in monetary terms by more than 17 times, and motorcycles nearly 13 times. Imports of European trucks to Belarus increased by 80%, and trailers and semi-trailers by 4.4 times. There are no reasons for such a rapid growth of the internal Belarusian market in principle. Consequently, the main part of the sanctioned automotive items was re-exported to Russia.

At the end of March, the “Belarusian Center for Investigation” published material on how Belarus supplies timber to the EU circumventing sanctions. Experts noticed a sharp increase in exports from Kazakhstan to the EU in 2023: over the year, purchases amounted to almost EUR 126 million. Before the sanctions on Belarusian timber were introduced in 2022, imports from Kazakhstan were nearly zero. The largest part of the shipments goes to the EU through Poland. Import to this country last year increased almost five times compared to 2022: from EUR 14 million to almost EUR 68 million. Exports to Latvia increased from EUR 3.5 million to 11 million. Lithuania reduced imports but still maintained it at EUR 5.5 million.

To enhance the effectiveness of restrictions, the EU Council on April 12 definitively approved the decision to criminalize circumvention and violation of sanctions (see “Belarus – a high-risk country”). However, the impact of the new law will be significantly delayed: member states have more than a year to implement it. Experts assert: much depends on the determination of individual countries’ governments to effectively apply the law.

The USA is setting an example in this respect. For participating in circumventing sanctions, an American court sentenced Belarusian businessman Sergei Karpushkin to 21 months in prison. Additionally, according to the US Department of Justice, he must return USD 4.7 million.

On April 10, members of the upper house of the Belarusian parliament approved a bill amending the customs legislation. The document will allow legally selling sanctioned goods in the country, registered as transit. In his speech, the head of the State Customs Committee, Vladimir Orlovsky, revealed schemes that will be used to circumvent sanctions but spoke too much. His words were initially published on the BelTA website, but were subsequently removed.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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