The sanctions target nine state-owned companies in the oil industry. The Belarusian economy is built on this sector, the regime relies on income. In addition, sanctions are directed against officials from Lukashenko’s entourage. The US government does not rule out further sanctions.
The immediate reason for the sanctions is the Ryanair flight that the regime grounded in Minsk last weekend, en route from Greece to Lithuania. The target of this ‘state hijacking’ was the critical journalist Roman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who were arrested after the landing. The action led to anger and outrage worldwide. According to the US government, the actions of the Belarusian authorities are ‘a direct violation of all international standards’.
The European Union also announced sanctions at the beginning of last week. Precise details are not yet known, but once again Belarusian officials are put on a sanction list, which bans them from traveling to the EU and freezing their European bank balances. There are already sanctions against 88 officials, including Lukashenko himself.
At the same time, the European Commission wants to give the Belorussians a carrot. President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU would offer EUR 3 billion in stock exchanges and loans for Belarus if the country went on a democratic course. The Commission hopes that this will increase internal pressure on Lukashenko.
With the new sanctions, the EU and US are responding to the Belarusian opposition in exile, which has been lobbying for this for some time. Svetlana Tichanovskaya said Saturday night that she was pleased with the worldwide support and sanctions. According to an important advisor of Tichanovskaya, the fact that the economic interests of Belarus are mainly intertwined with those of neighboring Russia is a ‘myth’. In doing so, he referred to the country’s trade volumes with Western countries.
Moreover, the sanctions also lead to further travel restrictions for Belorussians, which the opposition is less pleased about. It believes that escape opportunities, already made difficult by the regime, should be kept as high as possible.
At a time when the regime is being hit hard, it is important for Lukashenko to collect income elsewhere. He knows how to do that so far. While Tichanovskaya begged for more sanctions in The Hague on Friday, Lukashenko went to visit his counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Russian coastal town of Sochi.
Putin is Lukashenko’s last ally. It was their third meeting this year. Last autumn, Putin pledged a $ 1.5 billion loan, the first installment of $ 500 million coming in December. After that, the money supply remained closed. Now Lukashenko secured another tranche of 500 million, due at the end of June. In addition to the loan, the arrested Sofia Sapega, who is of Russian nationality, was also addressed. Her fate does not leave the Russian authorities ‘indifferent’, reports TASS.
According to TASS, the two presidents talked mainly about economic cooperation and the coronavirus crisis. Russian pro-government media, as usual, paid excessive attention to the details of the visit, such as the Dolphins who saw the two autocrats swimming in the Black Sea from their hunt.
For the time being, Lukashenko can support the Belarusian economy with the millions from Moscow. But that money, like the other Russian loans that have not yet been paid off, comes with a price. Russia will seize the opportunity to further strengthen its influence in Belarus.