Europe

EU backs new sanctions on Belarus over artificial flow of migrants

BRUSSELS • The European Union has approved new sanctions related to Belarus over the artificial flow of migrants towards the bloc’s eastern border, as a top official said the movements were slowing.

“The EU will now be able to target individuals and entities organising or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders,” the EU said in a release, referring to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Earlier yesterday, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc’s steps have already made a difference.

“Stopping the flow, stopping the flights is almost done,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels. The EU has been negotiating with the migrants’ countries of origin and transit.

The ministers will back “a new package of sanctions against Belarusian people responsible for what is happening in the country”, Mr Borrell added. They will also broaden the framework for such measures to target “other people, airlines, travel agencies and everybody involved in this illegal push of migrants in our borders”.

Mr Lukashenko is using thousands of migrants from nations including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in what the EU has called a hybrid attack, and has threatened to block the transit of natural gas supplies from Russia to the bloc.

Poland has accused Russia of masterminding the flow of people hoping to enter the EU. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow is not behind the migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border. Instead, it is ready to help resolve it, he said.

The ministers added the criteria of aiding and abetting people trafficking as a reason for imposing sanctions. They are considering preparations for a fifth package of sanctions targeting some 30 individuals and entities. New penalties could be announced – jointly with the United States and possibly Britain – early next month.

“We cannot avoid also addressing airlines,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, adding that he could not rule out curtailing flying rights.

Among the proposals being considered by the foreign ministers is making Minsk and other Belarusian airports no-fly zones, said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country, Lithuania and Latvia are considering asking the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to hold emergency talks about the stand-off.

Mr Putin’s economic and political backing had allowed Mr Lukashenko to weather mass protests against his 27-year rule last year, as well as US and EU sanctions imposed after his brutal crackdown on the opposition.

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