The West should better coordinate its sanctions against the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Belarusian opposition leader, Svyatlana Sichanowska, told EURACTIV that their current form has many loopholes.
“Lukashenko and his criminal gang are taking advantage of the shortcomings of the EU machinery and circumventing sanctions,” Sichanowska said.
An example of how Lukashenko avoided restrictions is the trade in potassium carbonate or potash. This substance, which is often used as a fertilizer, is a major export item in Belarus. Despite international restrictions, money from their sale still largely financed Lukashenko’s regime.
Potash has been on the European Union’s sanctions list since June of this year. According to the agreed rules, potash containing less than 40 percent potassium and more than 62 percent in the case of loose potash is subject to penalties. Thus potash in residual quality can flow across the boundary without restriction. According to Sechanowska, these rules are insufficient.
“In addition, Western countries are not divided over which companies are subject to sanctions. The European Union imposed sanctions on Belarus Kaleg, while the Americans focused only on the Belarusian Potash Company (BPC), the business division of Belarus. “These are different structures and effectiveness,” the representative of the Belarusian opposition said. The penalties are very low.
“It simply does not work with this setup. The value of Belarusian potash exports has increased over the past year due to higher prices. Thus, the Lukashenko regime received an additional 5 million euros.”
Lack of coordination
“The most obvious problem is certainly the coordination of the sanctions themselves. The current steps only keep Lukashenko in power, and thus harm the citizens of Belarus,” Chichanowska explained. In addition, she said, no one is investigating compliance with the sanctions.
The representative of the Belarusian opposition also criticized the long trials between individual rounds of sanctions. Because of them, Lukashenko managed to circumvent the restrictions. “It’s a very big gap. She said the regime is using this time to establish new companies that are not yet on the sanctions list.
EU diplomats are now discussing the sixth round of sanctions. It is not yet clear when the next sanctions will take effect and what their scope will be.
“We are afraid that it is too late. In three, four or five months? We do not know. At the same time, this is very important, because this is the life of imprisoned Belarusians, ”Chechanoska expressed her fears.
Long live human rights violations
YouTube has in the past been heavily criticized for posting ads containing forced confessions from opposition activists. Among them was a video clip of journalist Raman Pratasevic, who was detained by the Belarusian police after the plane landed in Minsk.
“What Lukashenko’s regime is doing now is disgusting. It imprisons people and then forces them to confess in the video. Something like this should not leave the general cold in Europe,” said Czechenkoska.
In addition to videos with confessions, the Belarusian regime has also pushed its own advertising sites on YouTube. According to the representative of the Belarusian opposition, similar cases show that social media often fails to regulate published content and can be abused in favor of authoritarian regimes.
Chichanowska also reminded that the migration crisis at the Polish-Belarus border should not distract from Belarusian political prisoners. “Our job is to help the people in Belarusian prisons. They are hostages, just like the refugees at the border.”
EU support for Belarus
Ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit, the European Union had already announced that it would increase its support for civil society in the country to 30 million euros. However, representatives of the Belarusian opposition were unable to attend the summit itself due to international rules.
“The issue of attending the summit is crucial for the Belarusian public. Discussions about the future of Belarus cannot take place without the Belarusians,” said Czechanska. According to her, there is enough political will in the EU to push the system, but the EU does not have sufficient effective tools to do so.
In the past, Cechianska has also criticized specific European leaders. A month ago, for example, she reprimanded a former German chancellor Angela Merkel To make frequent phone calls with Lukashenko.
However, according to her, the new German government is a strong ally of the Belarusian opposition and is actively handling the situation. According to him, he has the same hopes in Poland, which is directly affected by the actions of Lukashenko.