The EU has introduced new sanctions against Belarus. What will they affect?

This is the fifth package of sanctions introduced by the EU after the elections in Belarus. Will it work and how will Minsk react to it?

The fifth package of the EU sanctions against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko includes several major Belarusian companies, including Belavia, Grodno Azot, Khimvolokno, Belorusneft, Belshina. The United States, United Kingdom and Canada supported the sanctions. DW asked experts about what these sanctions would affect.

What do the new sanctions say?
The adoption of the fifth package of sanctions shows that the EU’s assessment of what is happening in Belarus has not changed, the situation in the country is of concern, and the fact that such measures are taken means that Brussels is ready to respond to this situation with practical steps, said Valeri Kovalevski, head of the Tihanovsky Cabinet in an interview with DW.

Rygor Astapenia, director of research at the Center for New Ideas in Belarus, believes that there is an increase in rates. “On the one hand, we can see that Alexander Lukashenko wanted to raise the rates by organizing a crisis on the borders of Belarus and the EU, on the other hand, the EU has not reacted and decided to raise the rates, too.

Yevgeni Preygerman, head of the Council on Foreign Relations “Minsk dialogue,” assesses the fifth package of the EU sanctions against Belarus in two ways. According to him, it was obvious that the European Union cannot not introduce some sanctions in this situation: “Because there is an a priori fear of the Brussels bureaucracy, as well as politicians in the member countries, that in crisis situations the EU will look divided and weak. And that is why the sanctions field is the only one where they (member states. – Ed.) can exert influence.

On the other hand, the expert believes that no concrete results of the impact of sanctions are visible, as well as the solution of “the tasks for which they are proclaimed and introduced. Preygerman believes that sanctions have no positive impact on the internal political situation in Belarus; on the contrary, they affect negatively.

What will be affected by the “fifth package”?
This is the fifth package of sanctions taken by the EU, but the first four haven’t changed the relationship between the EU and Belarus, or the situation in the country itself. Will the new sanctions have any impact?

“It’s safe to say that the sanctions will not bring any cardinally new effect. We see that they follow approximately the same pattern as the previous packages,” explains Grigori Nizhnikov, expert of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA). – The result of the previous packages is half-hearted. The sectoral sanctions that could potentially hit the Belarusian economy are applied very selectively.

Grigori Nizhnikov cites the example of sanctions against Belaruskali and the oil industry earlier this year. They have not led to the fact that the companies have had difficulties with sales, on the contrary, “export to the EU is breaking records and has increased in comparison with 2020.

“Enterprises of the chemical industry, such as Grodno Azot, Khimvolokno, Belshina, could potentially suffer great losses if the EU really takes these sanctions seriously and really restricts imports of products. But we see that this has not happened in previous times, and we are unlikely to expect it in this case,” he said.

Valeri Kovalevski agrees that the restrictive measures taken so far have not always been effective and painful for Lukashenko’s regime. Kovalevsky reminds that the first serious sanctions were introduced only ten and a half months after the presidential election in response to the seizure of the Ryanair plane and the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich.

Now the goal of the sanctions, according to the head of the Cabinet of Representatives Svetlana Tihanovskaya, is primarily to influence Lukashenka’s behavior, to stop repressions in the country and to release all political prisoners.

“Yes, to date, we see that the sanctions have failed to achieve these goals,” he acknowledged. – “However, we understand that the pressure is only beginning to gain momentum, and even the very presence of the word and discussion of the subject in the public eye makes the regime nervous, looking for ways to avoid sanctions and act to prevent their imposition.

What will be Minsk’s reaction?
Minsk won’t leave the fifth package without consequences, or will it simply limit itself to verbal criticism? After all, Lukashenko has already made statements about the possibility of the return of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus, as well as blocking the transit of gas and goods to Europe. The answer to this question, according to Preigerman, depends on whether the attempts to establish contacts and dialogue on the Merkel-Lukashenko line and further through the foreign policy departments at the working level have been successful.

“If a conversation begins, which can be perceived in Minsk as a signal that the EU does not want to tighten the screws further and move along the sanctions spiral, then there will be an opportunity to stop the escalation,” points out the expert. If Lukashenko is of the opinion that even despite Merkel’s attempts to talk, the confrontation with the EU reaches a new level, we should expect more negative surprises and drastic actions from Minsk, says Yevgeny Preigerman. He does not rule out that the pressure of the authorities on the Belarusian civil society and political opposition will get stronger.

Kovalevsky calls the possible retaliatory measures of Minsk, partially announced by Lukashenko himself, an absolute bluff: “First, Lukashenko has no legitimacy to recognize Crimea. As for nuclear weapons, no one will give them to this man, because there is a nuclear nonproliferation regime. It is very strict, and Russia is one of the countries that has the greatest interest in the flawless operation of this regime. Belarus will never get nuclear weapons from the hands of Russia; you can’t even dream of that.

As for cutting off Russian gas transit to the EU or the Polish border, which Lukashenko has threatened to do, Kovalevsky believes these steps will first and foremost affect Moscow’s interests, and they will be met with no enthusiasm there.

Nevertheless, it is still possible to expect reciprocal steps. “Knowing Lukashenko, we imagine that he will not accept this defeat and will continue to escalate the situation. We must keep our eyes open,” said Grigory Nizhnikov.

“I think we can see movements on the border, migrants trying to break into Poland,” says Ryhor Astapenia. However, he believes that Lukashenko does not have the tools to really hurt the West today, but “the tools to hurt the Belarusians do.

“What they really can do is to continue repressions in Belarus,” states the expert. – “They work. When they become widespread, they create a very negative background in society – a background of apathy and fear, which allows the authorities to hold on to power for quite a long time.