EU Ramps up Sanctions on Belarus' Lukashenko in Wake of Forced Ryanair Plane Landing

The European Union will place sanctions on more than a dozen Belarusian officials and organizations, in addition to a series of economic actions designed to damage President Alexander Lukashenko and his allies, foreign ministers agreed Monday.

The measures have targeted people accused of electoral misconduct and responsibility for the police crackdown that followed, the Associated Press reported.

The EU has taken a tougher approach since Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair plane carrying a dissident to land in Minsk in May. Officials also cite the country's alleged use of migrants to pressure neighboring Lithuania, which has acted as a refuge to critics of Lukashenko.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lukashenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a meeting with Commonwealth of Independent States officials in Minsk on May 28, 2021. Dmitry Astakhov / POOL / AFP/Getty Images

The ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 78 Belarus officials and froze the assets of 8 "entities," which are usually companies, banks, or associations. It means that a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now under EU restrictive measures.

"This decision was made in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists," a statement said.

Seven people and one entity were hit over the "forced and unlawful" landing of the Ryanair plane, which was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when it was ordered to stop in Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was one of the passengers.

The EU had already banned Belarus airline companies from flying over the bloc's territory or using its airports.

Borrell said the ministers will also prepare a raft of economic sanctions for EU leaders to endorse at a summit on Thursday. "These are going to hurt, going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily," he said.

The measures are likely to include action against the export of potash – a common fertilizer ingredient – tobacco industry exports and petroleum products, among others.

"We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions -- meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime's income," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

"We want to make very, very clear to Lukashenko that there is no going back," Maas said.

Maas said the 27 EU countries stand united on sanctions "We are really very, very determined not to budge, not just today -- nothing about this will change in the coming weeks and months," he said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said EU countries had thought only a month ago that it still might be possible to reason with Lukashenko but that "the mood is different now."

Landsbergis accused Minsk of "weaponizing" migration flows. He said around 500 people are sheltering in Lithuania, most from Iraq, and that Belarus border guards brought 30 refugees to the border in recent days. He said Lithuania has limited capacity for them and is building a tent camp.

To kick off Monday's meeting, the ministers held a working breakfast with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate to challenge Lukashenko in last year's election.

Opposition
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks during her news conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sunday, May 23, 2021. Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to begin an investigation. "It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich," she said in a statement. "Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety." Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo