BRUSSELS (AP) – The United States, the European Union, the UK and Canada simultaneously imposed sanctions on dozens of officials, organizations and companies in Belarus on Thursday, with the EU targeting those suspected of engaging in a “hybrid attack” on the country Block accused migrants.
The three countries and the 27-nation EU have targeted Belarus since President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term last year in an election the West and other observers have labeled as fraudulent and for the ensuing security measures against peaceful ones Protesters.
The US State Department said the US Treasury Department “identified three aircraft as blocked property and named 32 individuals and entities, including Belarusian state-owned companies, government officials and others who support the regime and facilitate its suppression.”
Meanwhile, the EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 17 other people, including senior border guards and military officials, government officials and judges.
The measures also hit airlines – including the state-owned airline Belavia – and tour groups accused by the EU of bringing migrants to Belarus to help them get to the 27-country bloc, mainly via Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, to enter.
The UK said it had sanctioned “eight Belarusians responsible for repression and human rights abuses”. It also froze the assets of OJSC Belaruskali, one of the world’s largest producers of potash fertilizers, which is an important source of income for the Belarusian government.
The Foreign Ministry said that “today’s actions demonstrate our unwavering determination to act in the face of a brutal regime that is increasingly oppressing Belarusians, undermining the peace and security of Europe and continuing to abuse people who just want to live in freedom.”
At least 8,000 migrants, including many Iraqis, entered the EU from Belarus without a permit this year. Lithuania and Poland declared a state of emergency at their borders to prevent people from crossing the border. Several people died in freezing temperatures in the Poland-Belarus border zone.
It is against this background that the EU has targeted Belavia. “Migrants who wanted to cross the Union’s external border flew to Minsk on Belavia flights from a number of Middle Eastern countries, notably Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey,” it said the sanction text.
The EU is also targeting Cham Wing Airlines, which operates flights from Syria to Belarus. She is accused of ramping up flights from Damascus to Minsk in the summer and setting up new offices in the Belarusian capital in order to better organize the shuttles.
The list also includes the state tourism company Tsentrkurort, which, according to the EU, has helped at least 51 Iraqis get visas for Belarus and organized bus transports to the borders for them.
Hotel Minsk and Hotel Planeta, affiliated with the Belarusian President’s Property Management Directorate, are accused of hosting migrants who want to cross the border.
The EU has also targeted VIP Grub, a passport and visa service based in Istanbul, Turkey. The sanctions list states that the company “organizes trips to Belarus with the express intention of facilitating migration to the EU. VIP Grub actively promotes migration to the EU. “
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry accused on Thursday that the new sanctions are aimed at “economically stifling Belarus, making the life of Belarusians as difficult as possible” and “destroying Belarus as a sovereign, economically successful state”.
The ministry denied allegations that the Belarusian government is orchestrating the migrant crisis and accusing the EU of undermining “stability and security in our region”. In a statement she called the EU “the initiator of the spiral of sanctions and aggression” and promised “tough, asymmetrical” measures in response.
The EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell said the bloc would not tolerate “the orchestrated and politically motivated instrumentalization of people by the Lukashenko regime”.
“This cynical strategy of exploiting vulnerable people is a hideous attempt to divert attention from the regime’s continued disregard for international law, fundamental freedoms and human rights in Belarus,” Borrell said in a statement.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition leader from Belarus in exile, shared his opinion.
“The regime has artificially created a crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border by cynically using migrants, living people, as rams,” said Tsikhanouskaya. “But instead of regaining his legitimacy and attention, Lukashenko achieved the opposite – the EU did not give in to the pressure and imposed new sanctions.”
Jill Lawless in London and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.