Belarus' Foreign Minister Decries 'Economic War' as EU Issues More Sanctions

Reacting to more sanctions imposed Thursday by the European Union on Belarusian officials, the country's foreign minister said the measures would hurt ordinary people and "border on the declaration of an economic war."

The Belarusian ministry also warned it would take retaliatory measures against Western companies.

On Monday, the EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 78 officials and froze the assets of eight "entities," which typically include banks, companies or associations. In total, 166 people and 15 entities in Belarus are now subject to EU restrictive measures. Senior Belarus officials are also under sanctions from Britain, the United States and Canada.

Border Patrol
A Lithuanian border guard patrols near the Lithuania-Belarus borderline. The Lithuanian government has accused Belarus' president of illegally allowing refugees from the Middle East to pass through its borders. Lithuania's foreign minister said the Belarusian leader is using migration as a weapon against the European Union, which has adopted sanctions against him and the nation. Paulius Peleckis/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

The EU slapped Thursday's economic sanctions on Belarus in response to what the bloc called the "escalation of serious human rights violations" including the detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich.

The sanctions target the economy but are also aimed at hitting President Alexander Lukashenko and his allies.

Pratasevich, a dissident journalist, was arrested May 23 after Belarusian flight controllers ordered a Ryanair jet traveling from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk.

The sanctions agreed upon Thursday target industries including potash—a common fertilizer ingredient—tobacco industry exports and petroleum products.

"Trade in petroleum products, potassium chloride ('potash'), and goods used for the production or manufacturing of tobacco products is restricted," the EU said in a statement. The sanctions also include a ban on sales to Belarus of equipment and software that can be used to monitor the internet and phone calls.

The sanctions also restrict Belarus' access to EU capital markets and halted payments to the country's public sector by the European Investment Bank.

The EU has gradually ratcheted up sanctions since Lukashenko, dubbed the last dictator in Europe, won a sixth term last August in elections the bloc called fraudulent.

The 27-nation bloc has taken a tougher line since the Ryanair incident and over the country's alleged use of migrants to pressure neighboring Lithuania, which has provided a safe haven to Belarusian opposition figures and is one of Lukashenko's most vocal critics.

The foreign ministers also flagged the economic sanctions that were approved Thursday. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said they would take aim at "economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime's income."

Belarus has been shaken by months of protests fueled by Lukashenko's re-election. The authorities responded with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Most opposition leaders have been jailed or forced to leave the country.

Since he was pulled off the Ryanair flight in Minsk, Pratasevich has been paraded on state TV, tearfully apologizing for his actions and praising Lukashenko.

His parents, members of the opposition and others in the West believe he spoke under duress, with some saying there were signs he had been beaten.

Lukashenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the 80th anniversary of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in World War II at the Brest Fortress memorial. Maxim Guchek/BelTA Pool/AP