US and partners take punitive action against Belarus

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting with the working group on finalizing the new draft Constitution in Minsk, Belarus on November 15, 2021. Sergei Sheleg / BelTA / Handout via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday imposed transaction restrictions on new Belarusian sovereign debt issues and extended sanctions against the country, targeting dozens of people and entities as part of the coordinated action with partners, including the EU.

Washington has increased pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, targeting the country’s defense, security and potash sectors as well as officials and Lukashenko’s son in an attempt to hold Belarus responsible for allegedly orchestrating a migrant crisis in Europe.

The action was coordinated with Canada, Great Britain and the European Union. In a joint statement, the group called on Lukashenko’s government to immediately and completely cease its orchestra of irregular migration across its borders with the EU.

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“Those in Belarus or in third countries who facilitate the illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders should know that this comes at a substantial cost,” the statement said.

The action came as East-West tensions escalated over the refugee crisis on the border between Belarus, an ally of Russia, and Poland and Lithuania.

Belarus’ foreign ministry has said it will respond to EU sanctions. In a statement, he said: “The aim of this policy is to strangle Belarus economically, to complicate and aggravate the life of Belarusians.

“In response, as we have said before, we will take tough, asymmetrical but adequate measures.”

He did not immediately comment on the action of the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.

The US Treasury Department has issued a directive prohibiting Americans from trading, providing and other transactions on Belarusian new sovereign debt with a maturity greater than 90 days issued on or after Thursday by the country’s finance ministry or the Development Bank.

POTASSE SECTOR

Washington has also imposed sanctions on Belarusian state tourism company, Republican Unitary Enterprise Tsentrkurort, and seven Belarusian government officials over the migrant crisis.

EU countries have accused Belarus of creating a deadlock on migrants on the eastern borders of the bloc by encouraging thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa to try to enter Poland and Lithuania, for take revenge on Western sanctions against Minsk.

Lukashenko denies having done so and blames the crisis on the EU.

Rights groups say at least 13 people have died as migrants camped in freezing conditions at the border.

Entities linked to the potash sector were also blacklisted on Thursday. Britain has targeted one of the world’s largest producers of potash fertilizers, Belaruskali, while Washington has imposed sanctions on several entities in an attempt to limit the financial benefits the Lukashenko government derives from potash exports. . Read more

Washington had previously blacklisted the state-owned Belaruskali in August, but added its export arm, the Belarus Potash Company, and another potash producer, Slavkali. Shares of global potash producers rose on Thursday after the announcement. Read more

The US Treasury issued a general license, authorizing the activities necessary for the liquidation of transactions involving the Belarusian potash company or its subsidiary, Agrorozkvit LLC, until April 1.

Belarus Potash Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

DEFENSE COMPANIES

Washington also blacklisted state cargo carrier Transaviaexport Airlines, which it accused of shipping thousands of tons of ammunition and weapons to foreign conflict areas such as Libya, and two of its aircraft, as well as five entities that produce or export defense equipment.

Defense companies listed included the manufacturers of riot barriers and armored vehicles that were deployed against demonstrators protesting the August 2020 election, a manufacturer of surveillance systems and the state arms exporter who provides money to the government.

Brian O’Toole, a former treasury official now at the Atlantic Council, said Thursday’s decision helped the United States catch up with previous European Union action while leaving a “significant” margin for escalation, giving Washington leverage to continue pressuring Minsk.

“This is exactly what you want to see outside of the United States. It’s a big action, it will have a lot of impact and there is still a lot of leeway,” he said.

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Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Simon Lewis and Tim Ahmann in Washington, Polina Devitt in Moscow; Robin Emmott in Brussels and David Ljunggren in Ottawa Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow Editing by Matthew Lewis, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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