The European Union is considering imposing sanctions on Belarus’ most profitable industry, potassium.
After Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, forced a plane to land to arrest an opposition journalist on board, EU leaders met on Thursday to consider fresh sanctions on Belarus that will target key economic sectors.
Belarus’ wealthy potassium sector may be harmed by the newest sanctions package. Along with petrochemicals, the government’s biggest income earner is the state-run Belaruskali factory.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told the Associated Press, “The keyword, I believe, is potassium.” “Belarus is a major producer of potassium and one of the world’s largest suppliers. And I believe it would be extremely damaging to Lukashenko if we achieved anything there.”
Belarusian airlines have previously been instructed to avoid Belarusian airspace, and Belarusian carriers have been blacklisted from EU airports and airspace. It has also imposed penalties in the past after an election in August that was deemed manipulated by opposition groups.
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Belarusian flight controllers urged a Ryanair jetliner’s crew to land in the capital of Minsk on Sunday, claiming a bomb threat, prompting the latest round of sanctions. Although no bomb was located, Raman Pratasevich, a 26-year-old journalist and activist, was taken from the plane and imprisoned. EU officials have condemned the action as a state-sponsored hijacking, while Lukashenko has justified his conduct, accusing the West of attempting to “strangle” his country with sanctions.
If the latest round of penalties fails to soften the crackdown on the opposition and democratic norms, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the EU would “continue to look at what impact this has in Belarus, whether Lukashenko relents.” If that isn’t the case, we must expect that this is only the start of a massive and long-term sanctions spiral.”
The EU has tried on and off to encourage democratic reforms in Belarus, bring it closer to the bloc — and distance it from its main backer, Russia — but has not had much success. Some say more sanctions will do little to alleviate the situation and will only push Belarus even closer to Russia, and reduce the influence of the EU and others.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg acknowledged that it is a difficult balance.
“What we don’t want to do is to drive the country in the arms. This is a brief summary.