Despite the de-escalation of the migration crisis, the West is increasing sanctions pressure
The de-escalation of the migration crisis in the second half of November did not lead to a revision of the plans of Western countries to tighten sanctions pressure. Instead of fulfilling the requirements of the Lukashenka regime, the West is preparing for new escalation scenarios, and also appeals to Russia with a request to put pressure on the Belarusian leadership.
The fifth package of EU sanctions against the Belarusian regime will be approved on December 1 and published the next day. The sanctions will affect the companies Grodno Azot, Belarusneft, Belavia, several travel companies (Oskartur and Tsentrkurort) and 28 individuals; for “Belavia”, they will block the opportunities to lease aircrafts through EU companies.
In response to the migration crisis at the Belarusian border, the European Commission has also proposed a new legal framework that will allow the EU to take targeted measures against operators of any means of transport involved in or facilitating smuggling or human trafficking into the EU. As part of this proposal, in addition to sanctions against Belarus, restrictions will be introduced against the Syrian charter airline Cham Airlines and the Turkish provider of passport and visa services VIP Grub.
Together with the European Union, the United States will also impose additional sanctions against the Belarusian regime in response to Minsk’s unacceptable actions in the situation with migrants, which have become a threat to international peace and security. Another factor, in addition to the political and migration crisis, contributing to increased sanctions pressure from Washington, is the violation of freedom of religion and China’s export of digital repressive technologies to suppress dissent in Belarus. Also, from December 8, US sanctions will be enacted against the Belarusian producer of potash fertilizers, which will affect the further transit of “Belaruskali” through the Klaipeda port.
Meanwhile, Minsk made it clear that it was trying to use the de-escalation of the migration crisis in order to establish a dialogue with the West. Thus, at the meeting of the Chairman of the State Border Committee of Belarus Anatoly Lappo with IOM Regional Director for Southeast and Eastern Europe and Central Asia Renata Held and Deputy Director of the UNHCR Europe Bureau Angela Li Rosi, the Belarusian side stated that it was open for dialogue to resolve the problem of migrants. Lukashenka also invited the new German government to negotiations.
However, if these signals are not heard by Western capitals, the Belarusian regime is ready to return to migration blackmail, threatening, in response to the EU’s preventive actions to block air flows, to organise overland routes of illegal migration through Russia and Ukraine. Lukashenka also wants the European Union to pay for the maintenance and evacuation of migrants. Otherwise, if the crisis is not resolved on his terms, it will worsen in winter and spring, and Afghans may appear on the Belarusian-Polish border.
Even though European countries are ready for such a development of events, they would like to avoid an escalation of the conflict. Poland and Lithuania have already responded to these threats with possible retaliatory steps by blocking land communications with Belarus. The Polish special services do not expect an early end to the migration crisis and suspect that the Belarusian side is working on new routes for the transit of migrants.
Moreover, instead of fulfilling Lukashenka’s conditions, Western countries prefer to turn to Russia for services to put pressure on the Belarusian regime. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already promised to put pressure on Belarus to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. Washington also asked for similar services. Following this, he held telephone talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi about the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border. The same problem, as well as the fifth package of EU sanctions against Belarus, were discussed by the Russian leader with the President of the European Council Charles Michel. Although Moscow publicly expresses its protest against the sanctions pressure on Minsk, the behaviour of the Belarusian ally has already created problems for Russian business due to traffic jams on the Belarusian-Polish border. The closure of the Bruzgi-Kuznitsa crossing and the migration crisis as a whole can create problems with the supply of goods to Russia and lead to their rise in prices due to the use of bypass routes.
The EU has agreed to meet some of the requirements of the Belarusian regime in terms of financing the stay and evacuation of migrants, but the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to get access to the EU Commission’s assistance package of 3.5 million euros. The imminent introduction of the fifth package of sanctions and the refusal to transfer the dialogue between Minsk and Brussels from the technical to the political level will lead to further degradation of relations.
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