The West is preparing a new package of sanctions against Belarus in connection with the escalation of the Ukraine crisis and the controversial constitutional referendum
The participation of the Belarusian regime in the Russian strategy of escalating military tension with Ukraine predictably led to Kyiv declaring support for Western sanctions against Belarus. Minsk indicates it is ready to discuss regional security issues with Western countries and neighbours. However, there is no prospect of fundamental concessions. Consequently, Western governments are preparing a further sanctions package.
Lukashenka’s anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and support for Russian military pressure on Ukraine unsurprisingly led to a ban on the transportation of Belarusian mineral fertilisers by Ukrainian railways from February 16th. This will block shipments to customers in Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, the CIS and the Baltic States. However, these sanctions do not apply to other carriers of Belarusian potash.
Facing this logistical blockade and unable to redirect the export of potash fertilisers through Russian ports, the Belarusian regime began to try to de-escalate, calling for dialogue with Ukraine and Lithuania at a meeting with retired Ukrainian politician Alexander Moroz, during negotiations between the defence ministers of the two countries, and sending congratulations to the Lithuanian people on the Day of Restoration of the State of Lithuania. Difficulties with re-export via Russia forced Minsk to consider the port of Constanta in Romania. The largest Indian potash importer Indian Potash asked their Belarusian supplier to clarify delivery routes before signing a new deal for 2022.
Following the United States, the European Union is considering new restrictive measures to close loopholes in existing sanctions against Belarus and developing further sanctions for use should Minsk take part in an invasion of Ukraine. The Belarusian side has no such intentions. Russian troops are expected to withdraw following the “Allied Resolve-2022” exercises. However, attempted nuclear blackmail by Lukashenka has placed Belarus in the spotlight with the United States and the international community.
Although Lukashenka declared victory over the West for Belarus and Russia in the first round, unease about the Kremlin support and strategy motivates Minsk to continue to seek normalisation of relations with the West. Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei reiterated readiness for dialogue with Western countries so long as it takes place on Minsk’s terms. The regime proposed that the West engage with the de facto power in Belarus and discontinue dialogue with opponents.
Western countries immediately rejected this proposal. Consequently, the European Union and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights will not send observers to the constitutional referendum on February 27th, guaranteeing non-recognition of the result. Similarly, the new Swiss ambassador presenting his credentials to Lukashenka in exchange for the release of political prisoner Natalia Hersche does not constitute legitimisation of the Belarusian regime in the eyes of the West.
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Situation in Belarus