European Union foreign ministers have begun talks on possible economic sanctions against Belarus amid international condemnation over the recent forced landing of a passenger airplane in the capital, Minsk, where a journalist and his girlfriend were immediately arrested.
“The hijacking of the plane and the detention of the two passengers is completely unacceptable, and we will start discussing implementation of the sectorial and economic sanctions,” EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said on May 27 as he entered the meeting between foreign ministers in Lisbon.
Borrell added that work on a new round of sanctions on Belarusian individuals was at an advanced stage, but he didn’t provide more details.
Several ministers have said EU sanctions should target sectors that most benefit the Belarusian leadership, such as the oil and potash sectors.
“It is clear that we will not be satisfied with small sanctions steps, but that we aim to target the economic structure and financial transactions in Belarus significantly with sanctions,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Lisbon.
“We really need to find the sectors, the companies, who actually benefit the regime, but not hurting the people,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said, suggesting the oil-products sector was an option.
Another possibility floated would be the potash sector, according to Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn.
Belarus’s authoritarian leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and his allies are already under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on mass protests that followed his disputed reelection to a sixth term in August 2020.
Meanwhile, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will hold an urgent meeting in Montreal, Canada, on May 27 to discuss the forcibly diversion of the Ryanair plane, which was flying from Greece to Lithuania, to land in Belarus on May 23 after Western powers called for the UN civil aviation agency to investigate the incident.
Europe’s aviation regulator has already urged all airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace for safety reasons after the EU began to cut air links with the increasingly isolated Eastern European state.
Belarusian national flag carrier Belavia said it had been forced to cancel flights to seven European countries and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad until October 30 due to flight bans.
In a statement after a closed-door UN Security Council meeting on May 26, the United States and Western European members called the incident “unprecedented and unacceptable” and demanded “full accountability for those responsible.”
They also called for Belarus to immediately release journalist and opposition activist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend who was traveling with him, Sofia Sapega.