Explained | Why is the EU imposing sanctions on Belarus amid the Ukraine-Russia war?

After four days of fighting, representatives of Russia and Ukraine have agreed to meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border. 

Published - March 01, 2022 10:41 am IST

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. File.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. File. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The story so far: The European Union (EU) on Sunday declared a new set of sanctions on Russia and its ally Belarus as the Kremlin continues to wage awar in Ukraine. For the first time, the EU announced that it will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons to Ukraine to fight against Russia.

What did the EU say? 

In her statement, EU President Ursula von der Leyen called Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko “a collaborator of the Kremlin” and “the other aggressor in this war”. Praising Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s leadership, Ms. von der Leyen said that his bravery and the resilience of the people of his country are “outstanding and impressive”. 

Why is Belarus complicit? 

Belarus is situated to the west of Russia and the northwest of Ukraine. In the weeks leading up to the war, the country allowed thousands of Russian troops to gather on its territory under the pretext of a joint military exercise. Kyiv had called the exercise “psychological pressure”. 

Russia’sjoint military exercise with Belarus was earlier scheduled to end on February 20, 2022, before it was extended. According to Belarus Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin, the extension was “to ensure an adequate response and de-escalation of military preparations of ill-wishers near our common borders”. 

Russia also sent six warships for naval drills on the Black Sea and the neighbouring Sea of Azov. The Black Sea is situated towards the south of Ukraine, and the country had alleged that this was Russia’s attempt to “cut off Ukraine”. 

Before Mr. Putin announced his military operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, leaders from around the world had described the Belarus-Russia military exercise as a threat. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had called it a “very violent gesture”, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Russia of attempting to “undermine Ukrainian sovereignty”, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the amassing of Russian troops in Belarus a “dangerous moment for European security”. Western leaders had also warned that Russia could be preparing to escalate its eight-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, Russia had annexed the Crimean Peninsula, then a part of Ukraine. 

What are the sanctions against Belarus? 

The EU plans to introduce sanctions against the most important sectors of Belarus, which will stop the exports of products ranging from fuels to tobacco, wood and timber, cement, and iron and steel. In addition, the EU will extend the export restrictions on dual-use goods for Russia to Belarus so that such materials are not used for military operations. The EU will also sanction Belarusians who help Russia in their war against Ukraine. 

How are the people of Belarus reacting? 

Even as Mr. Lukashenko continues to side with Russia, many Belarusian nationals are protesting against their country’s involvement in the war against Ukraine. 

On Sunday, anti-war rallies were observed in around 12 cities of Belarus, and human rights advocates reported that over 170 people had been arrested. Protestors waved the Ukrainian national flag in the capital city Minsk, and a large pile of flowers was seen outside the Ukraine embassy. 

What are the EU sanctions against Russia? 

The EU has adopted a five-pronged approach to weaken Russia’s offensive against Ukraine. The organisation has announced sanctions on Russia’s finances, energy sector, transport sector, exports, and visa policy.

Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Russian-controlled aircraft have been prohibited from flying in the airspace over the EU. This restriction includes private aircraft of Russian oligarchs. To weaken Russia’s propaganda in other countries, the EU has declared a ban on State-owned Russian media channels. This includes Russia Today and Sputnik. 

The EU has also announced stringent financial sanctions on Russia under which important Russian banks will be excluded from the SWIFT system and transactions of Russia’s central bank will be banned. 

Read | Exclusion from SWIFT: What it entails 

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