European Union imposes economic sanctions on Belarus

The European Union imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions on Belarus for the first time on Thursday, targeting its main export industries and access to finance a month after it forced a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk, Reuters reports.

The measures include banning EU businesses from importing goods or doing business with Belarusian companies in sectors including banking, petroleum products and potash, a salt used in fertiliser that is the country’s main export.

The sanctions are far stricter than measures imposed in the past, which mainly consisted of blacklists of Belarusian officials and had little or no impact on the behavior of President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994.

In the most significant measure for the Belarusian economy, the new sanctions ban EU companies from transporting potash.

Belarus will now need to find other countries and ports to ship its top export via the Baltic Sea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is Lukashenko’s closest ally but Russia does not have enough port capacity to handle Belarusian fertilizers or its own, data showed.

EU leaders were outraged by the interception of the Ryanair plane flying between Athens and Vilnius on May 23.

Belarusian authorities arrested a dissident journalist and his girlfriend after the plane landed, in an incident which Western countries branded state piracy.

Lukashenko said the interception was justified to prevent a rebellion in Belarus.

With Lukashenko so far impervious to foreign pressure over a presidential election which opponents say was rigged last August, and was followed by a crackdown on street protests, the EU had said it wanted to increase pressure.

Diplomats said the decision to impose harsher sanctions was taken unusually quickly, reflecting the seriousness with which governments viewed the Ryanair incident.

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