BRUSSELS – The European Union on Monday put pressure on Belarus by agreeing to impose new sanctions on the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko and others accused of helping him carry out an “insurgency”. hybrid attack” against the block that uses migrants.
The 27 EU countries imposed four sets of sanctions on the Belarusian government and high-ranking officials during controversial elections last August, prompting Mr. Lukashenko’s return to office and a security crackdown on with peaceful protesters afterward.
But as tensions mounted on Belarus’s border with EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, the bloc’s foreign ministers expanded those measures to include airlines, travel agents and people in the country. Another is accused of helping to bring migrants to Minsk.
“Today’s decision reflects the European Union’s determination to combat the instrumentalization of migration for political purposes. We are pushing back against this inhuman and illegal practice,” said the director. EU foreign policy Josep Borrell said in a statement.
EU headquarters said the bloc “will now be able to target individuals and entities that organize or contribute to the activities of the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal border crossings.” outside of the EU.” The list of people who will be affected by the frozen content and travel ban is expected to be finalized in the coming days.
The EU believes Mr Lukashenko has begun luring migrants to Belarus in recent months as part of a retaliatory attack aimed at destabilizing the bloc. The EU has been deeply divided over how to manage migrants since more than 1 million people entered the country in 2015.
Several thousand migrants are trapped in makeshift camps in freezing weather after Poland beefed up its border with 15,000 troops, in addition to border guards and police. At least nine people have died. Many wanted to go further west, usually to Germany.
Lukashenko brushed aside the threat of new EU measures.
“We will defend ourselves. That’s it, there’s nowhere to retreat,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency Belta.
Mr Lukashenko also denied his government had organized the flow of migrants, saying it was “an unwarranted effort” and he stressed that those involved were resisting Belarus’s efforts to encourage them to return. water.
“I have to say that these people are stubborn: no one wants to go back. And it can be understood that way: They have nowhere to go back. They have nowhere to live there, they know there’s nothing to go back to. raise their children. Moreover, some are simply afraid for their lives,” he said.
Asked about the risk that further sanctions could only make things worse, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “I have no impression that Belarus behaves constructively without measures. punishment. That was not the case before.”
Maas added: “We are far from the end of the cycle of punishment.
Belarusian airline Belavia is among the airlines likely to be affected, and Maas warned other companies to follow Turkish Airlines’ example by limiting flights to the Belarusian capital.
“Those who don’t have to expect tough sanctions. The situation is so dire that I can no longer rule out denying the right to fly or authorizing a landing in the eurozone,” he said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said “we need to make Minsk airport a no-fly zone”. He said the EU must ensure that planes capable of carrying migrants bound to Europe “will not land in Minsk, or indeed any airport in Belarus. It is important to do so. get that.”
The EU says that the Belarusian dictatorship has for months been inviting migrants to Minsk, many of them Iraqis and Syrians, with the promise of help to get them across the border of the three countries that form the western flank. east of all 27 countries. EU and NATO.
In response, all three are strengthening their borders. In an interview on Sunday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he and his two Baltic counterparts were discussing whether to call for urgent consultations at the NATO military alliance.
Many clashes and attempts to cross the border have been reported at the border, but during the state of emergency in Poland only security forces have access and the incidents cannot be independently verified.
Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.