Canada, EU, UK, US impose sanctions on Belarus over Ryanair hijacking

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Protest in Minsk against Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko on September 20, 2020 after the controversial August election.
Image: User:Palsciuk.

On Monday, Canada, the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom and the United States imposed new sanctions on senior officials and entities in Belarus over the May 23 diversion of a Ryanair flight and subsequent arrest of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, as well as "repressive practices" committed by the Belarusian government.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on April 1, 2021.
Image: Информационное агенство БелТА.

The joint action was aimed at putting pressure on Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko's "regime", a joint statement read, citing "continued attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law", as well as the "politically motivated" arrest of Mr Protasevich and Ms Sapega.

The statement went on to express support for "the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus", calling for Belarusian co-operation in investigations into the incident, the release of all political prisoners, adherence to the recommendations of an expert mission by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), of which Belarus is a participating state, and OSCE-facilitated dialogue between the government and opposition.

The circumstances surrounding the forced landing of Ryanair flight FR4978 from Lithuania to Greece in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, are contested. As reported by Sky News, state media says the diversion was due to threat of explosives on board, a claim Global Affairs Canada calls "dubious and still unverified".

Total restrictive measures varied between the countries and regional organisation. Canada sanctioned 17 new individuals for a total of 72, and five entities described in a press release as being "due to the ongoing disregard for human rights demonstrated".

The EU, through the Council of the European Union, extended its restrictive measures by 78 individuals and eight entities related either to human rights violations or the "forced and unlawful landing", to a total of 166 individuals and fifteen entities. Those who are impacted, including judges, businesspeople, university rectors and government ministers, will be subject to an asset freeze, and persons affected prohibited to enter or transit through EU territory.

The measures also prohibit EU citizens and companies from making money available to the designated. According to the Associated Press, EU policy chief Josep Borrell said the measures "are going to hurt [...] the economy of Belarus heavily". The decision to affect entities, not just individuals, foreign minister of Germany Heiko Maas said, will impact the "economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s income"; those targeted include the export of fertiliser ingredient potash, and those of tobacco and petroleum.

The United Kingdom furthered sanctions levied with Canada in September on eight Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, his son, and senior government members. New restrictions include eleven individuals and two entities, which are henceforth subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

Among those targeted includes petroleum exporter BNK (UK) Ltd, which, according to its 2019 report of the director presented to Companies House, "provides intermediate services to oil sector companies" in Belarus. According to a government press release, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said "cutting off oil export revenue streams" was one way the government would "hold the [Belarusian] regime to account".

The United States, through the State Department and Office of Foreign Assets Control under the Treasury Department, imposed visa restrictions on 46 Belarusian individuals holding "key positions" in the country, according to a press release, and added 16 individuals and five entities to a designated list. In addition to concerns of the country's "transnational repression" and "affronts to international efforts", the US also cited the "fraudulent" 2020 Belarusian presidential election as cause for the sanctions' imposition.

The timing of the sanctions was questioned by Belarusian Nikolai Shchekin on state media network the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, noting the date June 21 is one day before the anniversary of the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, or the "Great Patriotic War". According to CNN, the US attempted to announce its sanctions earlier, prior to a meeting between US president Joe Biden and president of Russia Vladimir Putin, but was held up by the EU.


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