This month Belarus is again in the news of the world’s leading media. First, the office of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was issued status as the official representation of the Belarusian democracy in Lithuania. This was followed by the successful visit of the leader of the Belarusian protest to the U.S., her meetings with Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and State Department head Anthony Blinkin. The Belarusian opposition agenda has been positively covered by top American publications, including articles in The Washington Post and interviews with Tikhanovskaya on CNN and MSNBC.
The Wall Street Journal writes covered the White House’s preparing of new economic sanctions against the Belarusian potash and oil sectors. These will complement the previous packages to further isolate and increase pressure on the Lukashenko regime.
It would be proper for Tikhanovskaya’s visit to the U.S. and the intensification of repressions against civil society and the media in Belarus to be covered in Ukraine not as facts, but with assessments of the impact on the further development of Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. The sanctions against Belarusian citizens involved in electoral fraud and repression announced previously are still in the process of being adopted. Overall, it seems that Kyiv has taken a wait-and-see attitude. Has it always been this way and how did the imposition of sanctions against the Lukashenko regime develop?
Stages of introducing European sanctions against the regime
The rigging of the presidential elections in August 2020 in Belarus and the subsequent actions of the Lukashenko regime aimed at intimidation and repression and the violent suppression of peaceful protests, the use of torture, detentions, and political persecution were the main reasons for the introduction of restrictive measures by the EU.
Since October 2020, the European Union has introduced several packages of sanctions in response to the deepening crisis in Belarus, including those in reaction to the hijacking of the Ryanair plane on May 23, 2021 and the detention of journalist Roman Protasevich, who was on board the flight.
In June of this year, Brussels also approved sectoral sanctions, which, specifically provide for restrictions on the trade in petroleum products and potash fertilizers, which are the main exports for Belarus. The EU restricted Belarus’s access to European financial markets and banned insurance and re-insurance of Belarusian state-owned firms and institutions.
The EU Council imposed a ban on the use of EU airspace and access to EU airports for all Belarusian air carriers.
Currently, 166 people and 15 organizations from Belarus are under targeted EU sanctions. Along with the European Union, the U.S., Canada, and the UK are expanding sanctions against the Belarusian regime.
The intensification of political repressions and restrictions on freedom of speech in Belarus taking place recently are forcing the U.S. and the EU to consider the possibility of expanding sanctions against Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime.
Western sanctions, especially sectoral sanctions, will have a direct impact on Ukrainian-Belarusian relations and will introduce the question of whether Ukraine will join them.
Factors influencing Ukraine’s introduction of sanctions
Until now, Kyiv has imposed limited sanctions against Belarus. They have essentially consisted of a demonstration of solidarity with and reaction to corresponding actions of the U.S. and the EU.
After two weeks, Ukraine joined the EU declaration of August 11, 2020, which asserts that elections in Belarus were not free and did not meet international standards and that used disproportionate and unacceptable violence against protesters. Still, some maintained that Ukraine acted indecisively in its assessment of the so-called Belarusian elections.
Then, on August 27, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba informed the media about the suspension of all relations between Ukraine and Belarus until «these relations will not incur any reputational, political or moral losses for Ukraine.»
Lukashenko regularly threatens Ukraine with various retaliatory measures. Examples of information influencing include recognizing the occupation of Crimea by Russia and illegal formations of the so-called LPR, integration and strengthening of military cooperation with Russia, blocking the border with Ukraine, and blocking or restricting the supply of goods, including petroleum products.
Often such statements turn out to be fabrications, as, for example, it was with the announcement of the complete «closure» of the border with Ukraine, which was not confirmed by the Ukrainian State Border Service. Before that, the self-proclaimed president talked about «a huge number of weapons» that are coming from Ukraine to Belarus.
Sometimes Belarus launches demonstrative measures, such as the cancellation by the Ministry of Information of permits to broadcast two Ukrainian TV channels – UAТV and KVARTAL TV – or the introduction of an individual licensing regime for the import of a list of Ukrainian goods.
Now the situation is at a stage that Kuleba has called «a certain balance between the economy and values in relations with Belarus.»
Essentially, we see that the unresolved issues of the energy market and the diversification of supplies of energy carriers and petroleum products significantly limit Ukraine’s determination to impose sanctions, including joining the economic sectoral sanctions imposed by the European Union.
Dmitry Kuleba said at the Ukraine 30 International Politics forum on July 5 that Ukraine is considering diversifying the supply of fuel and fertilizers to free themselves of Belarus’s leverage, which in some areas has a virtual monopoly position on the Ukrainian market.
Today, Ukraine has practically ceased contacts with Belarus at the senior government official level. Periodically, Lukashenko and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry exchange statements in the media, accusing one another of complicating interstate relations and of threats to national security.
Aleksey Reznikov, deputy head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group for a Peaceful Settlement in Donbass, in April stated the need to postpone negotiations from Minsk, saying that Ukraine does not have confidence in the country «since today Belarus is still under the influence of Russia.»
Decisions already taken by Kyiv
Since Ukraine has become one of the main countries to which Belarusians have fled from the repressions of the Lukashenko regime, the question of their special status was raised almost immediately.
The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted several decisions aimed at simplifying the stay of Belarusian citizens in Ukraine. The Cabinet essentially changed the terms of their temporary stay.
Another decree of the Cabinet of Ministers simplifies the procedure for obtaining a temporary residence permit for citizens of Belarus who are entrepreneurs and highly qualified specialists, including those in the IT sphere. This is especially relevant, since it is Ukraine that has become the main destination for Belarusian IT specialists. At least 3,000 Belarusian technical specialists have applied for a work visa in Ukraine, writes The Washington Post.
Ukraine also joined EU restrictions and decided to ban direct flights with Belarus by Ukrainian and Belarusian airlines. Since May 29, it has introduced a ban on the use of Ukrainian airspace by aircraft registered in Belarus. This was a response to the hijacking of the Ryanair passenger plane, which the Belarusian authorities forced to land at the Minsk airport on May 23.
On July 9, Ukraine joined the joint statement of the heads of the foreign affairs committees of 11 national parliaments, including France, Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S., calling for a ban on flights suspected of delivering illegal migrants to Belarus. Introducing additional sanctions against persons involved in organizing illegal migration at the state level have also been discussed. This was in reaction to Lukashenko’s blackmailing Europe, foremost Lithuania, with illegal migrants.
Ukraine has limited its purchasing of electricity from Belarus. The National Commission for Regulation in the Spheres of Energy and Utilities of Ukraine adopted a resolution, which restricts the import of electricity from Belarus and Russia until October 1.
It should be noted separately that Ukraine has imposed sanctions against Viktor Medvedchuk, the business partner of Nikolai Vorobey, one of Lukashenko’s «moneybags.» These sanctions directly affected Vorobey’s assets in Ukraine – a part of the Samara-Western Direction oil product pipeline that passes through the country. The oil pipeline was used to supply diesel fuel from Russia and Belarus to Ukraine, as well as for its transit to Europe.
Ukraine also plans to impose sanctions on representatives of the Belarusian regime involved in falsifying the results of the presidential elections in Belarus and suppressing peaceful protests.
On July 7, the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers approved proposals to impose sanctions on individuals in Belarus and which should be submitted to the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine within the month. This decree was based on decisions of the EU Council adopted back in October and November 2020.
Among the 52 people on whom Ukraine plans to impose sanctions are the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the KGB, the Investigative Committee, the Presidential Administration, the Central Election Commission, and the Constitutional Court of Belarus. Lukashenko’s son Viktor is also on the list. At the same time, Belarusian businessmen, «moneybags» of the Lukashenko regime, and the self-proclaimed president himself are not yet on the Ukrainian sanctions list.
These businessmen were named by The Washington Post on July 16 in an editorial urging the U.S. to impose sanctions on them: «These regime oligarchs — such as Alexander Zaitsev, Alexei Oleksin, Nikolay Vorobey, Alexander Mashensky, Alexander Zingman and Mikhail Gutseriev — provide the fuel that keeps Mr. Lukashenko in power.» Some of these oligarchs also have financial interests in Ukraine.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Украинские санкции в отношении Беларуси