Can the EU topple Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, with new sanctions? Probably not, but after the forced landing of Ryanair Flight 4978, further economic and financial sanctions must be inevitable.
Belarusian potash exports are vital when it comes to Lukashenko’s ability to obtain exchangeable foreign currency, are likely to be targeted. Cutting the Lukashenko regime off from international banking networks like Swift is also being considered.
Regardless of the specifics of any potential sanctions, the EU should adopt tougher punitive measures against Lukashenko. Trying to protect him from Putin’s clampdown was always make-believe
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – an umbrella organization of public radio and TV decided to suspend the membership of Belarus TV BTRC, with EBU’s board saying, “We have been particularly alarmed by the broadcast of interviews apparently obtained under duress.”
The statement was in reference to an interview on Minsk-TV with Roman Protasevich, the journalist who was arrested by Lukashenko’s KGB after the Belarusian Air Force, on Lukashenko’s personal orders, hijacked the Ryanair flight and forced it to land in the Belarusian capital Minsk. In the interview, Protasevich shows visible signs of torture. The EBU opted to block the popular Eurovision song contest in Belarus.
The EU-Institutions should now come up with tougher sanctions for the Lukashenko regime, which is quickly becoming the North Korea of Eastern Europe.
Since the Maastricht Treaty, which also gave the EU competencies a common foreign and security policy in 1992, considerably more sanctions have been imposed. According to the list (www.sanctionsmap.eu), more than 170 punitive measures are currently in force against more than 30 countries.
Since December 2020, the EU has had a new mechanism against people worldwide for human rights violations. This was first used in March against China – for its repression of the Uyghurs – and other countries. Entry bans and account freezes have also been imposed on several people in Russia who were involved in the conviction of opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
But among diplomats, the theory has been that sanctions only work against smaller states, while large ones like China or Russia, the effects on their own economies are usually too great. That is why the trade sanctions that were imposed on China, in 1989, following the Tiananmen Square massacres did not last long.
In the case of Belarus, international organizations like the Council of Europe and OSCE, where Belarus is a member, should now demand the release of regime critics and the holding of new elections under supervision. Airlines like Turkish Airlines or Aeroflot, both of which continue to fly to Minsk, would have to be banned from landing at any airport in Europe. That decision, however, could cause new problems with Ankara and Moscow.
The EU imposed sanctions against Russia in several stages after Moscow illegally occupied Crimea and incited a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Conversely, the Kremlin reacted by imposing import restrictions on European agricultural products. Because of Putin’s support for Lukashenko, EU politicians like David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, are now calling for tougher measures. That said, individual countries such as Hungary and Cyprus could veto them.
As a result, the unanimity principle should be dropped in this case.
Perhaps the advice of Ukraine’s ambassador to Austria, Alexander Scherba, should be followed first. In his new book Ukraine vs. Darkness, he suggests that punitive measures against oligarchs who support Putin’s system should be put in place. “Let the Russian decision-makers, propagandists, oligarchs and their families spend their holidays on Kamchatka or Chukotka, not in their English castles or Italian villas. Cut them off from their wealth by blocking them Swift and through visa revocation and freezing their accounts. Poison not only their reputations but their money. That’s all it takes.