EU sanctions set to hit potash, oil and Belarusian finances

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for a face-to-face EU summit in Brussels on May 24, 2021. Olivier Hoslet / Pool via REUTERS

The European Union will consider hitting Belarus’ major potash exports as well as its oil and financial sectors with new sanctions, as punishment for forcing a Ryanair flight to arrest a journalist, foreign ministers said. the EU.

EU leaders described Sunday’s incident, in which a flight between EU member Greece and Lithuania was pressed to land in Minsk and a 26-year-old dissident and a 23-year-old student were arrested, as state piracy. They promised to impose serious consequences.

Foreign ministers meeting in the Portuguese capital on Thursday said they were looking to target sectors that play a central role in Belarus’ economy, in order to inflict real punishment on President Alexander Lukashenko.

“The hijacking of the plane and the detention of the two passengers are completely unacceptable, and we will start discussing the implementation of sectoral and economic sanctions,” the EU foreign policy chief told reporters, Josep Borrell, in Lisbon.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said: “I think the keyword is potash. We know Belarus produces a lot of potash, it is one of the biggest suppliers in the world, and I think it would hurt Lukashenko a lot if we handled something in this surface area. “

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the EU should consider hitting the oil sector, while Heiko Maas spoke of measures to target financial transactions, which diplomats said would likely involve prevent the EU from lending to Belarusian banks.

Maas said sales of Belarusian bonds could also be targeted.

“We are talking about using means of financing … in particular the question of how far Belarus should be allowed in the future to issue bonds, by the state or the central bank, in Europe,” he said. he told reporters.

Exports of potash – a potassium-rich salt used in fertilizers – are a major source of foreign exchange for Belarus, and the state-owned Belaruskali company says it produces 20 percent of the world’s supply.

The EU’s statistical agency said the bloc imported 1.2 billion euros ($ 1.5 billion) in chemicals, including potash from Belarus last year, as well as for more than a billion euros of crude oil and related products such as fuel and lubricants.

So far this week, Europe has already taken steps to ban its airlines from using Belarusian airspace and to keep Belarusian planes out of its skies. But finding a package of sanctions that would change Lukashenko’s behavior proved difficult.

Since cracking down on pro-democracy protests last year, he has largely ignored the previous three rounds of EU sanctions and comparable US measures, mainly blacklists banning officials from surrendering or leaving. doing business in Europe and the United States.

Ministers in Lisbon said new sanctions would include a fourth round of travel bans and asset freezes. They are aiming for an agreement on June 21 when they meet in Luxembourg.

Western countries are calling for free elections in Belarus. Germany Maas said sanctions should continue to be tightened, at least until more than 400 political prisoners are released there.

“Until this is the case, the EU will not be able to back down by paving the way for new sanctions,” he said.

(1 USD = 0.8201 euros)

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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