The Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the EU approved this Monday a tightening of the sanctions regime against Belarus in order to punish all companies that cooperate with the migratory flow orchestrated by Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime towards European borders. The measure, the technical details of which are yet to be specified, targets all airlines or travel agencies that have facilitated the granting of visas and the transport to Belarus of Iraqi, Afghan or other nationals with the intention of entering the territory from there. from the EU across the borders with Poland, Lithuania or Latvia.
“In Belarus, we continue to face a hybrid attack against the EU,” said the high representative for EU Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, after presiding over the meeting of ministers that approved the toughening of sanctions. The head of European diplomacy has indicated that “in the next few days” the name of the people who will be included in the EU black list will be specified.
Borrell has also described as “very worrying” the accumulation of troops on the border of Ukraine, a country that, according to information from Washington, is exposed to a new armed aggression by Moscow. Some European partners even make a link between the Byelorussian hybrid attack and the threat against Ukraine. Borrell has not formally endorsed that hypothesis, but he has not ruled it out either. “I am not a secret to the talks between Putin and Lukashenko, but it is clear that what Lukashenko is doing is because he has powerful support from Russia,” said the high representative.
The European response, in any case, is for now concentrated against Belarus. The new sanctioning regime, which makes it possible to extend the previous framework – due to allegations of fraud in the elections last August and the diversion of a European commercial plane to Minsk to arrest a dissident – has been unanimously approved shortly after the start of the meeting of the ministers, which indicates the degree of unity in the face of hybrid attacks – those that use unconventional means, outside the strictly military sphere – of Lukashenko. The forcefulness also shows that the EU is treating the dramatic situation on the Polish border not as a migration crisis, but as a deliberately organized attack by Belarus.
The decision approved by the Council, which will be published on Tuesday in the official EU gazette, adds to the sanctions regime the prohibition of any natural or legal person from entering EU territory who “organizes or contributes to the regime’s activities. of Lukashenko that facilitate the illegal crossing of the external borders of the Union ”, according to the draft of the official text to which EL PAÍS has had access. The same text provides for the freezing of assets for designated persons. The Council adds that the broadening of criteria for being blacklisted is necessary “in view of the gravity of the situation”.
Borrell has indicated that the decision reflects “the determination of the EU to stand up to the instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes.” The Spanish underscores: “We are stopping this inhumane and illegal practice.”
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The European Commission has already mobilized all its political and diplomatic resources to demand that the countries of origin and transit of the migratory flow avoid the departure of people to Belarus due to the risk that they end up stranded in no man’s land at European borders. The vice-president of the Commission, Margaritis Schinas, traveled last week to the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon with this objective. And this week he plans to visit Baghdad and Ankara for the same purpose.
Borrell has assured before the meeting of the ministers that the Schinas management is working and that the flights to Minsk “have almost stopped already.” The head of European diplomacy believes that “the EU already has the situation under control.” Brussels has resorted to pressure measures related to the interests of each country. In the case of the Emirates, for example, negotiations on visa liberalization have been wielded, which could be postponed or suspended if cooperation is not appreciated, according to community sources.
Schinas’ tour led to immediate announcements of suspension of flights or banning of boarding to Belarus for certain nationalities. The collaboration of Turkish Airlines has also left the Belarusian company Belavia without the possibility of flights, which used its presence in the same airline alliance to operate the Istanbul airport as a means of transferring emigrants.
The closure of some direct routes, however, seems to have led to the diversion of migrants to other routes. Specifically, to flights with a stopover or destination in Moscow, from where it is feasible to fly to Minsk.
The EU, meanwhile, finalizes the fifth package of sanctions against the Lukashenko regime, after the four approved since Brussels described the August 2020 presidential elections in Belarus as a shock. If adopted, the decision involves adding the names of Belarusian individuals and companies to the so-called blacklist of sanctions. In total, it is now made up of 166 senior Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, who have been banned from entering EU territory and threatened with the seizure of their assets in any of the 27 countries of the Union. That list also includes 15 Belarusian companies.
In June this year, Belarusian airlines were also banned from flying over European airspace, as well as landing or taking off at EU airports. That punishment came after the hijacking by the Belarusian authorities of a commercial Ryanair flight, which was forced to land at Minsk airport to detain a Belarusian dissident who was part of the passage.
The Baltic States will support Poland in NATO
The presidents of the three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – announced on Monday that they will support
Poland if it decides to invoke Article 4 of NATO in relation to the “hybrid war” that according to them Belarus is waging by sending masses of migrants to the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
At a joint press conference in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, Latvian President Egils Levits stressed that what is happening on the border with Belarus “is not a refugee crisis like the one in 2015, but a hybrid attack.” “The political reaction has to be different from what there was then,” Levits added, stressing that Latvia would join Poland if this country
decides to convene NATO consultations under article 4 of the alliance.
Said article establishes that consultations take place when the territorial integrity, political independence or security of an allied State are threatened. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, for his part, indicated that his country’s national security council agreed last Friday on the conditions under which they would join Poland to request consultations.
Estonian President Alar Karis informed the press that he had called a meeting of the National Security Council for this Tuesday to address the same issue. Poland repelled in recent days several violent attempts to cross the border fence by groups of migrants, incited, according to the authorities of that country, by Belarusian agents.
Lithuania is prosecuting some 4,200 individuals who crossed the border irregularly from Belarus over the summer, before the Baltic state began to send them back across the territorial boundary. Latvia declared a state of emergency and began expelling new arrivals in August, after the first signs came that Belarus was redirecting migrants to the Latvian border.
At the end of the meeting of the three Baltic presidents, Nauseda declared that everything indicates that Belarus is integrating militarily with Russia, which presents a new situation for NATO. Russian paratroopers were recently deployed near the Belarusian border with Poland and Lithuania in the course of military exercises. Levits remarked that “(Aleksandr) Lukashenko’s regime is not independent, it plans its actions together with Moscow,” adding that “Russia is connected in one way or another with the migrant crisis,” since some of them travel to Belarus. from Iraq making a stopover
On Sunday, the Latvian Defense Ministry announced that it was conducting unplanned military exercises near the Belarusian border, involving 3,000 national guard and regular troops, exercises that will continue until December 12. The three presidents also spoke via video conference with their Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, and agreed that the borders of all countries threatened by Belarus must be protected, according to Levits.
The Latvian president stated that despite statements by the president of the European Council, Ursula von der Leyen, that the European Union (EU) would not finance the construction of border barriers with Belarus, the Baltic presidents “believe that the EU should participate in the construction of an effective border fence, as it is the external border of the EU. ” The Baltic presidents said they had also addressed issues that had been pushed aside by the border crisis, such as the project
“Rail Baltica” that will connect the three countries with a high-speed connection with Western Europe.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.