EU Leaders Move to Impose New Sanctions on Belarus

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    Backed by the U.S., European Union leaders moved to impose new sanctions on Belarus over the forced landing of a Ryanair jet and the arrest of a dissident journalist.

    Calling the incident “a direct affront to international norms,” U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the EU decision. In a statement, he said he’s asked advisers “to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible.”

    EU leaders on Monday asked the European Commission to propose Belarusian officials who should be added to an existing blacklist and told their ministers to come up with broader measures to target businesses and entire sectors of the country’s economy.

    They also vowed to ban Belavia Belarusian Airlines from entering EU airspace and asked EU-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarus.

    “This is an attack on democracy, this is an attack on freedom of expression and this is an attack on European sovereignty,” Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, told reporters.

    European sanctions could take a month or more to take effect, however, while the U.S. administration didn’t indicate when it might take action. Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko has already withstood years of Western sanctions thanks to support from Russia and China.

    The measures followed the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Minsk and the arrest of 26-year-old Raman Pratasevich who was on board the flight from Athens to Vilnius. The EU called on President Lukashenko to release the journalist and on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the incident.

    Pratasevich appeared in a brief video released by Belarusian authorities Monday night. Speaking with little expression, he said he was being treated “appropriately,” is feeling well and has confessed to charges of fomenting mass unrest. His allies said he appeared to have been beaten, but there were no clear signs of injuries.

    The video “makes for deeply distressing viewing,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter Tuesday. “Belarus’ actions will have consequences.”

    Accused of torturing prisoners, Belarusian authorities have regularly released such “confession” videos from detainees in the months since the protests began last summer. The crackdown showed no signs of letting up, with a court in Mogilev Tuesday sentencing seven opposition activists and bloggers to sentences of up to seven years in prison each for organizing mass unrest — the same charge to which Pratasevich confessed in the video.

    The EU’s tougher stance against Belarus coincided with a scheduled discussion on its close ally Russia. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called for measures to limit Russia’s access to financial markets and international payment systems.

    Von der Leyen said that Russia has tried to weaken the EU and undermine member states through “sabotage, assassinations, divide-and-rule tactics, cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns.”

    “It is getting worse,” she said. The EU leaders asked the commission to set out options for pushing back against Putin when they meet next month.

    Russia backed Belarus’s handing of the situation. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakaharova Tuesday denounced the western reaction as “hysterics,” RIA Novosti reported. In a public show of support, President Vladimir Putin will meet Lukashenko later this week, for the third time this year.

    Plans for a summit between Putin and Biden also are on track, with details to be announced soon, the Kremlin said.

    The EU has already imposed sanctions on dozens of individuals and seven entities, including Lukashenko and other senior government officials, and was already working on a new round of measures to present next month. In light of this weekend’s incident and the mandate provided by EU leaders, those new restrictive measures are likely to now be tougher.

    In addition to adding more people and entities to the list, the bloc could set out action targeting the financial and economic interests of the regime, including businesses and oligarchs. The proposals will be prepared by the EU’s foreign affairs arm before they go back to member states for approval.

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    In This Story: Belarus

    Belarus, officially the Republic of Belarus and formerly known as Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk.

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