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January 23 – January 29, 2023
Belarus-West relations

Synchronisation of sanctions: the line between Belarus and Russia is blurring

The situation got worse

As the anniversary of Russian military aggression against Ukraine approaches, the EU has begun to prepare a 10th package of sanctions. There are proposals to impose additional EU sanctions against Belarus for the first time in many months. Until now, the West has refrained from stringent measures against the Belarusian regime to demonstrate that it still sees a difference between the aggressor and the supporting country and to avoid pushing Minsk further into the hands of Moscow.

During the discussion at the European Commission, the sanctions against Belarus under consideration ranged from individual and sectoral sanctions to closing loopholes (for example, against banks) to harmonise sanctions with those imposed against Russia. Germany initially opposed the idea of complete harmonisation on the basis that until Belarus directly participates in the Russian invasion, the distinction between the aggressor state and the supporting state must be maintained. Meanwhile, Lithuania sees both countries as equally culpable. Both perspectives had their supporters.

The position changed significantly after alarming information about Belarus’s role in the war emerged. There are fears that Belarusian EU imports from the EU of items such as medical equipment go to factories that produce equipment such as drones, thereby allowing Belarus to import Western weapons components on behalf of Russia.

Consequently, the European Commission confirmed preparing a new package of sanctions against Belarus for its role in supporting and participating in the Russian invasion. Amongst the possible restrictions, a ban on the export of electronics, household appliances and luxury goods is mentioned.

Sanctions will also be imposed against Belarusian banks because Russians have repeatedly travelled to Minsk to withdraw money from local ATMs. Restrictions on the furniture sector are also under consideration, along with a ban on importing alcohol and cigarettes.

Additional trade sanctions against Belarus are being discussed to bring these measures in line with those against Russia. This implies bans on export and services and import restrictions to exclude the possibility of circumventing sanctions previously imposed against the Russian Federation.

Finally, after further discussion, it was announced that the proposed measures would bring sanctions against Belarus in line with many of the restrictions previously imposed against Russia, including restrictions on key technologies and the country’s energy sector.

  • a ban on the export of dual-use goods and technologies with a military potential or capable of strengthening the country’s industrial capabilities.
  • sanctions on oil, coal, steel products and gold.
  • trade restrictions on luxury goods, investments and the provision of certain services.
  • measures that will hit the country’s aviation and energy sectors and key sources of revenue.

Similar to the sanctions imposed on Russia, the proposals include exemptions for medicines, agricultural and food products, and exemptions for related financial transactions involving individuals subject to sanctions. The legislation will also enable the EU to prosecute individuals who help circumvent the sanctions.

Meanwhile, the United States demanded that Turkey ban Belarusian and Russian airlines from flying to Turkey with US-made aircraft (in particular, Boeing) because of the violation of American export controls arising from the provision of services such as refuelling and supply of spare parts.

Acting in anticipation of the new sanctions against Belarus, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky imposed restrictions against twenty-three Belarusian companies in the petrochemical, potash, logistics, woodworking, and financial sectors. The Security Service of Ukraine compiled this sanctions list, and Ukrainian authorities will appeal to the EU, the United States, and other countries to follow suit.

This follows a proposal by Lukashenka that Minsk and Kyiv conclude a “non-aggression pact” and criticism of the Ukrainian leadership for ignoring the “Belarusian issue” in the context of contacts with the Belarusian opposition in exile. Ukraine is not going to attack Belarus at present, but in the event of an escalating threat from Belarus, a clear action plan exists. This likely includes Kalinoŭski’s regiment, which has begun formation of a mechanised unit and is recruiting experienced personnel.

Meanwhile, the Joint Transitional Cabinet is not discouraged by the lack of attention from Kyiv and continues to be active in mobilising support with other partners. Following her visit to Warsaw, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya invited Poland to take a leading role in forming a coalition for a democratic Belarus. In response, Polish authorities confirmed that they would continue to support the Belarusian democratic forces.

The United States also continues to support the Belarusian opposition. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, Karen Donfried, and her deputy, Robin Dunnigan, meet regularly with Tsikhanouskaya’s representatives, and Washington is looking for a “suitable candidate” for the post of special envoy to Belarus.

Finally, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution demanding the establishment of a special tribunal against Belarus and Russia for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. The Assembly notes that Belarus participated in the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, as it allowed its territory to be used for these purposes. The international community should condemn its role and complicity, and its leaders should be brought to justice.

The willingness of the West to synchronise sanctions against Belarus and Russia, new restrictive measures by Ukraine, and the PACE call to establish a special tribunal against Belarus and Russia signify that the line between Belarus and Russia is blurring. The change in sanctions strategy is likely due to Western awareness of an impending Russian offensive from Belarusian territory.

 

 

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