LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – The EU will discuss on Monday further economic sanctions on Belarus, including on airlines, to increase pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko, whom it accuses of helping undocumented migrants to enter Poland and the Baltic states.
A tightening of sanctions would follow broad measures imposed on Belarus’ economy in June over Lukashenko’s crackdown on protesters following his disputed re-election in August 2020. The protesters say the election was rigged, which he denies.
Many EU states now also accuse Lukashenko of encouraging illegal migrants, many from Iraq, Iran and Africa, to enter the European Union via Belarusian territory in a retaliatory “hybrid war” they say aims to destabilise the bloc.
“We need to introduce stricter sanctions … It means to put so-called tourism companies that are organising flights (under sanctions),” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.
“I also believe that we need to sanction Belavia fully, so that it cannot receive any kind of support,” he said, referring to the national airline. Although Belavia has already been banned from flying over EU airspace, it still leases planes from EU countries, notably Ireland.
Since August, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus. They accuse Minsk of flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them into the EU.
Lukashenko denies the accusation and has blamed the West for what he says is a looming humanitarian catastrophe this winter after migrants were left stranded and freezing on the Belarusian-Polish border.
Germany, the EU’s largest member state, Austria and the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell all expressed support on Monday for further sanctions.
Ireland appeared wary of immediately preventing Belavia from leasing planes because of legal obligations on existing contracts, although Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he was open to preventing future deals.
“While Ireland wants to increase sanctions and pressure on the Belarusian regime, we’ve also got to make sure that is practicable and implementable,” he told reporters in Luxembourg.
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Gareth Jones)