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April 8 – April 14, 2024
Belarus-West relations

Belarus: “High-Risk Country”

The situation has gotten better
Belarus: “High-Risk Country”

The European Union has begun developing its 14th package of sanctions against Russia, which will include secondary sanctions against high-risk countries for circumventing restrictions. Poland and the Baltic states already classify Belarus as such and are tightening sanction measures accordingly. In the context of criminalizing the circumvention of sanctions in the EU, trade relations between Minsk and its European neighbors are set to be curtailed.

The Polish Ministry of Finance explained the reasons for banning the import of cars into Belarus on transit plates with engine capacities over 1.9 liters, as part of measures to combat sanction circumvention. It is emphasized that Belarus is considered a “high-risk country” known for helping to circumvent sanctions. Poland acts within the framework of a 2014 European Union regulation, which prohibits “knowingly and intentionally participating in activities that circumvent sanction restrictions.” The necessity to provide a manufacturer’s certificate at the border is explained by customs code requirements. Latvia and Lithuania had previously introduced similar bans.

Moreover, if the European Commission does not decide to ban the supply of agricultural products from Belarus and Russia, Poland is ready to introduce a unilateral embargo. A meeting of representatives of the agricultural parliamentary committees of Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine took place in Vilnius in the format of the Lublin Triangle. The parties agreed on a declaration aimed at banning the export and transit of Russian and Belarusian food products. The Polish Ministry of Agriculture hopes that Brussels will make the appropriate decision no later than June, i.e., before the start of the harvest, which would help reduce surpluses of wheat and rapeseed.

Amid renewed migration pressure from Belarus (an attempt by a group of over 220 migrants to breach the border was thwarted on April 10), Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also stated that border security would remain a priority. He has received signals about Lukashenka’s regime’s plans to once again use migration and border pressure issues. Tusk intends to urge all European partners to make the problem of illegal migration a priority. Security issues, including the migration aspect, will be one of the agenda items of the Polish presidency of the European Council, which begins on January 1, 2025.

In turn, the Lithuanian Seimas has proposed annulling residence permits issued to Belarusian citizens if they frequently visit their homeland. In recent years, 62,000 Belarusians have obtained Lithuanian residency permits. Most of them visit Belarus more or less regularly. In Vilnius, there are concerns that the Belarusian intelligence services could recruit people and ask them to perform certain intelligence functions.

Additionally, Lithuania proposes limiting the export of goods by ordinary Belarusians. Some Lithuanian officials believe that through goods for personal use, Belarus may circumvent sanctions and help Russia to do the same. The Vilnius Chamber of Commerce and Industry proposes to limit the maximum amount that Belarusians could export goods from Lithuania for private needs to EUR 100.

It appears that Poland and the Baltic states are acting somewhat ahead of the EU in their sanction policy against Belarus and Russia. The European Union countries are just beginning to develop the 14th package of sanctions against Russia. The new restrictions are to be agreed upon in the spring and adopted by the summer of 2024. The focus of the new package of restrictions is on secondary sanctions, which the Baltic states and Poland have already de facto begun to introduce against Belarus. It will include a large list of restrictions with a strong focus on combating sanction circumvention — in the maritime sector, for example, Russia continues to try to breach the price cap on oil exports.

Against this backdrop, on April 12, the Euro Council finally approved the introduction of criminal liability for violating and circumventing sanctions. Certain actions will now be considered criminal offenses in all EU member states, such as aiding in circumventing travel bans, trading in sanctioned goods, or conducting prohibited financial activities. Incitement, aiding, and abetting these crimes may also be punishable. The directive will come into force on the 20th day after its publication in the Official Journal of the EU. EU states are given 12 months to bring their criminal legislation into compliance with it.

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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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