Belarus hit by multiple EU sanctions

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BRUSSELS – The European Union on Monday increased pressure on Belarus by agreeing to impose new sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime and others accused of helping him conduct a “hybrid attack” against the blockade using migrants.

The EU27 has already imposed four sets of sanctions on Belarusian authorities and senior officials for last year’s disputed elections in August that brought Lukashenko back to office and for the ensuing security crackdown on peaceful protesters.

But as tensions at the Belarusian border with EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania escalate, the bloc’s foreign ministers have extended those measures to add airlines, travel agents and others accused of helping bring migrants to Minsk.

“Today’s decision reflects the European Union’s determination to resist the exploitation of migrants for political purposes. We are rejecting this inhuman and illegal practice,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

EU headquarters said the blockade “will now be able to target individuals and entities who organize or contribute to Lukashenko regime activities that facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders”. A list of those affected by the asset freeze and travel bans is expected to be finalized in the coming days.

The EU believes that Lukashenko has started attracting migrants to Belarus in recent months as part of a retaliatory attack aimed at destabilizing the blockade. The EU has been deeply divided on how to handle migrants since over 1 million people entered in 2015.

Several thousand migrants are stranded in makeshift camps in the freezing weather after Poland strengthened its border with 15,000 soldiers, as well as border guards and police. At least nine died. Many people want to head further west, often to Germany.

Lukashenko pushed aside the threat of new EU measures.

“We will defend ourselves. That’s all, there is nowhere to retreat further,” was quoted by the state news agency Belta.

Lukashenko also denied that his government organized the influx of migrants, saying it was “not worth it”, and insisted that those involved are resisting Belarusian efforts to encourage them to return to their home countries. .

“These people, I must say, are very stubborn: no one wants to return. And understandably: they have nowhere to return. They have nowhere to live there, they know there is nothing to feed their children with. Also, some they are simply afraid for their lives, “he said.

Asked about the danger that further sanctions could only make things worse, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “I don’t get the impression that Belarus is behaving constructively without sanctions. It wasn’t like that in the past.”

“We are far from the end of the spiral of sanctions,” added Maas.

Belarusian flag carrier Belavia is among the airlines that could be affected, and Maas has warned other airlines to follow Turkish Airlines’ lead by restricting flights to the Belarusian capital.

“Those who do not have to expect harsh sanctions. The situation is so dramatic that I can no longer rule out the denial of overflight rights or a landing permit in the European area,” he said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that “we must make Minsk airport a no-fly zone”. He said the EU must ensure that planes that could carry migrants to Europe “would not land in Minsk, or actually at any Belarusian airport. It is very crucial to do so.”

The EU says that the authoritarian Belarusian regime has invited migrants, many of them Iraqis and Syrians, to Minsk for months, with the promise of helping them cross the borders of the three countries, which make up the eastern flank of both 27 countries. EU and NATO.

In response, the three are reinforcing their borders. In a Sunday interview, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he and his two Baltic counterparts are discussing whether to require emergency consultations at the NATO military alliance.

Numerous clashes and crossing attempts have been reported at the border, but in a state of emergency in Poland only security forces have access and incidents are impossible to independently verify.

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Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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