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Western countries extended sanctions against Belarus, pledging to make Alexander Lukashenko’s regime “run dry,” following last month’s landing of a Ryanair flight to arrest a connoted dissident.
In a coordinated move against Lukashenko, the UK, US, EU, and Canada established travel bans and asset freezes on senior Belarusian officials and entities as a punishment for the arrest of dissident Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who were detained during a flight from Athens to Vilnius.
EU foreign ministers added 86 people and entities to the bloc’s sanctions list. At the same time, the UK announced it was imposing sanctions on seven individuals and one entity linked to the Ryanair flight, as well as four people and one entity they allege participate in "human rights abuses."
The US Treasury Department announced the freezing of all US assets and barring all transactions with 16 individuals and five entities, including Lukashenko’s press secretary, Natallia Mikalaeuna Eismant.
The EU ministers also endorsed a plan for sanctions targeting the Belarusian economy in an attempt to build pressure against Lukashenko’s government.
“We will no longer only sanction individuals but also areas of the economy which are important to the regime. We want to make Lukashenko’s regime run dry financially,” said Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a statement on the German foreign ministry’s Twitter account.
“Sanctions are a way of putting pressure on the government of Belarus, and these are going to hurt. These are going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told media.
Borrell stated economic sanctions “will be approved after considering the European Council” of EU leaders, who meet for a two-day summit on Thursday.
New Belarus sanctions, announced by Sec Blinken, will target dozens of Belarusian individuals & entities in response to the forced diversion of the Ryanair flight to arrest journalist/activist Raman Pratasevich. They are rolling out today alongside the EU, UK & Canada. pic.twitter.com/XtvH9CCTit
Officials work to hit Belarus’s export industries, including oil, tobacco, and potash, a salt used in fertilizer and a large source of foreign currency for Belarus. EU banks will also be banned from offering loans or investments to Belarus.
Austria, which has banking interests in Belarus, said it was not blocking a deal, stating it wanted to ensure sanctions did not hurt the Belarusian people.
“We want to hit the state-affiliated economic sector, those responsible, not the people in Belarus, who are suffering anyway,” said the Austrian foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg. “We have to tighten the thumbscrews after this callous action of state air piracy.”
The latest sanctions on 78 individuals and eight entities are the fourth round of coercive measures the EU has imposed on Belarus after elections last August.
The UK government said it would also sanction BNK UK Ltd, an exporter of Belarusian oil products, and promised “further measures targeting specific sectors of the Belarusian economy."