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EU agrees new framework for Belarus sanctions

November 15, 2021

The European Union's foreign ministers have amended the bloc's sanctions regime to slap new measures against Belarus amid a standoff over migration.

A Polish serviceman stands guard behind a barbed wire near a migrant camp on the Belarusian-Polish border
Tougher sanctions are 'inevitable' despite Belarus insisting it does not want conflictImage: Viktor Tolochko/Sputnik/picture alliance/dpa

European Union foreign ministers on Monday adjusted the types of sanctions that the bloc can impose against Belarusian authorities.

"The [European Council] today amended its sanctions regime in view of the situation at the EU's border with Belarus, so as to be able to respond to the instrumentalisation of human beings carried out by the Belarus regime for political purposes," an EU statement said.

The EU accuses the regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of flying migrants, most of them from the Middle East, to the Belarus-Poland border, where they seek to enter the bloc's territory. 

"Today's decision reflects the determination by the European Union to stand up to the instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes. We are pushing back on this inhuman and illegal practice,'' EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

What will the measures against Belarus include?

The move means measures will include airlines and travel agents allegedly involved in the standoff at the Belarusian borders with EU member states Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

EU headquarters said the bloc "will now be able to target individuals and entities organizing or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal crossing of the EU's external borders.''

Those affected by the sanctions will be named in coming days. 

European Commission President Usrula von der Leyen said the bloc's sanctions will include measures against airlines. "Coming days will be decisive," she told a conference in Munich.

"We are also trying to help the countries of origin," she added.  

Von der Leyen also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has influence over Belarus and "he needs to use this influence." 

What is the row with Belarus?

Poland has said thousands of migrants are stranded on its border with Belarus and reported breaches of the barrier there.

Western governments accuse Minsk of luring migrants to his country and sending them to cross into the EU in retaliation for earlier sanctions.

The bloc imposed those sanctions in response to a Belarusian crackdown on dissent in the wake of last year's presidential election.

The EU slapped Minsk with further sanctions earlier this year after Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk and arrested a dissident journalist who was on board. 

What does Belarus say?

Minsk has repeatedly denied the accusations and said Warsaw was deliberately escalating tensions.

Lukashenko had warned that Belarus could cut off natural gas flows from Russia to Europe if the EU imposed further sanctions. But the Kremlin distanced itself from that threat.

On Monday, Belarus state news agency Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying that Minsk is trying to persuade migrants living in camps near its western border to return home.

"Active work is underway in this area, to convince people: Please, return home. But nobody wants to go back," Lukashenko said, as quoted by Belta. 

Lukashenko also threatened to send the migrants via the Belarusian state-run airline Belavia to Germany if Poland does not provide a "humanitarian corridor."     

"We will send them to Munich by our own planes, if necessary," he said.

Last week, Belavia announced that it would not allow Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni nationals to fly from Turkey to Belarus, following a similar Turkish decision. 

What is the current situation at the Poland-Belarus border?

Migrants are camped out in freezing cold weather and dire conditions.

Polish authorities have reported at least nine deaths near the border with Belarus — including a 14-year-old Kurdish boy who died of hypothermia. "The death toll will be rising, as it's getting colder by the day," said DW correspondent Barbara Wesel in Poland.

Poland put the number of people on the border at between 3,000 and 4,000, with more arriving every day. 

"More and more groups of migrants are being brought to the Kuznica border crossing by Belarusian forces," Poland's Defense Ministry said on Monday. 

It has been difficult to verify reports of what exactly is happening at the border due to Poland's state of emergency, which bars most journalists and aid workers from accessing the area.

While Poland heightened security and increased troops at the border, Belarus has conducted military drills with its key ally Russia near the border. 

fb/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)