ISSN 2330-717X

Belarus Under Sanctions, What Next? – OpEd

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Russia has unreservedly expressed its solidarity and unflinching support for Belarus after the United States and European Union slapped the fourth package of sanctions against its political leadership, members of the government and on a number of businesses.

On June 23, in an official statement posted to the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry, for instance, described the European Union decision as “illegitimate and illegal EU sanctions against Belarus” and the EU devalues ​​its own claims to the role of guardian of international law.

According to the statement, “the Russian Federation is committed to allied relations with fraternal Belarus. We will continue to coordinate our efforts in the interests of strengthening state sovereignty and ensuring the national security of our countries on the basis of existing international legal agreements, and strengthening our collective stability in the face of external pressure and a policy of containment.”

In the meanwhile, Belarus and the world is waiting for the results of the international investigation into the emergency landing of the Ryanair airline in Minsk. The European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States presented a joint statement on imposition of sanctions against Belarus, published on the EU website on June 21. 

“Today, we have taken coordinated sanctions action in response to the 23 May forced landing of a commercial Ryanair flight between two EU member states and the politically motivated arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion Sofia Sapega,” the statement reads.

The sides urged Belarus to cooperate fully with international investigations into the events of May 23, and “enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue between the authorities and representatives of the democratic opposition and civil society, facilitated by the OSCE.”

The EU expanded its sanctions against Belarus, adding 78 persons and 8 companies to the list. The US sanctioned 16 persons and six companies, while the UK sanctioned 11 people and two organizations. Canada imposed sanctions against 17 persons and fiver Belarusian companies.

The European Council notes on its website that the EU sanctions now apply to 166 persons and 15 entities in total.

“Those designated are subject to an asset freeze and EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to those listed. Natural persons are additionally subject to a travel ban, which impedes them from entering or transiting through EU territories.”

The package of sanctions imposed have sparked debates and discussions among Russian politicians and experts as well as foreign academicians. It has attracted unprecedented reports both in the local and foreign media.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, widely known Russian media, reported that the EU Foreign Affairs Council held a session in Luxembourg, and was attended by Belarusian opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. After her speech, ministers of 15 EU countries interactively asked her questions about sanctions, the domestic situation in Belarus, and the fact that the Belarusian crisis could be resolved peacefully through joint means of putting pressure on the government.

Besides that and as has been the situation, the Belarusian government has shown no desire to alleviate the tensions in its relations with the EU. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that Belarus terminated the activity of the UN human rights adviser in Minsk. The relations between Belarus and the EU have reached their highest escalation point in modern history.

Experts are still figuring out the possible impact on the economy of Belarus and its relation to Russia. First, all the individuals on the sanction list banned from entering the European Union and any of their potential assets be frozen in the EU.

On the economic sectors, the restrictions will affect the potassium, oil and financial spheres of Belarus. According to various news reports, the sanctions may affect up to 4% of Belarusian exports, which last year amounted to US$29 billion.

For instance, Belaruskali, one of the largest producers of fertilizers in the world, might be one of the companies targeted by the sanctions. It transports its products through the Port of Klaipeda in Lithuania, the newspaper reports.

“Before the pandemic, the revenue of Belaruskali reached about US$2 billion. About 90% of its products go through Klaipeda.It will be practically impossible to replace this route with the aid of Russian ports and railways,” Belarusian political analyst Dmitry Bolkunets explained as reported by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, adding that it is necessary to wait for the final decision on the sanctions regime.

So far, about 20-30% of Belarus exports are under the threat of sanctions, the expert suggested. Before the pandemic, Belarus’ exports reached US$32 billion, so as a result of EU sanctions the Lukashenko government risks losing up to US$10 billion.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis noted that Russia would be significantly affected by EU sanctions against Lukashenko’s government. Only Russia can refinance the losses of Belarus, so by introducing sanctions against Minsk, the EU puts part of the pressure on Russia, which has the ability to influence Belarus, the minister explained.

The new Western sanctions against Belarus will not produce the desired effect, while reciprocal measures will negatively affect the interests of the Western citizens and companies, Belarusian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

“The sanctions and restriction will not produce the effect, desired by those who ordered them. The reciprocal measures that the EU forces us to take may equally negatively affect the spheres of our cooperation and, eventually, the interests of Western citizens and companies who took unfriendly steps towards our country,” the Foreign Ministry said in its commentary on the sanctions, imposed earlier by the US, the EU, the UK and Canada.

The Foreign Ministry noted that “such approach leaves neither time nor space for a search for windows of opportunity, in order to find an exit from the situation that exists in the relations between Belarus and the EU, the US, the UK and Canada.”

Russia and Belarus parliaments have together against external forces. During its 60th joint parliamentary session held in June, the First Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia, Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, Vladimir Andreichenko, in remarks appreciated the support provided by Russia against the background of attempts by Western states and the European Union to destabilize the situation in Belarus.

According to the 2019 census, Belarus has 9.5 million population. Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, and is a former Soviet republic. The leadership has often been described as “Europe’s last dictatorship” by some media outlets, politicians and authors due to its authoritarian government. Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the country since the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

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Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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