Belarusian regime has introduced counter-sanctions against the West
The sanctions war between Belarus and Western countries has reached a new milestone, prompting the Belarusian authorities to introduce counter-sanctions, primarily food embargo, largely copying the Russian approach. The Belarusian crisis remained on the global agenda, which guarantees the imminence of new sanction restrictions against the Lukashenka regime.
In response to new restrictive measures by Western countries, the Belarusian regime announced counter-sanctions, which will include:
- a ban on imports of some Western goods into Belarus;
- expanding the list of personas non-grata in Belarus and the Union State;
- Advancement with the Union programs and strengthening economic integration with Russia, building strong trade and economic ties within the EAEU and with the countries of the "far arc";
- restrictions on air carriers from the EU and the UK due to sanctions against Belavia;
- a series of “non-public steps”.
Following this, the Belarusian authorities introduced the food embargo against Western countries as of January 1, 2022 for six months. It could affect USD 500 million worth of imports. Counter-sanctions could be cancelled if Western countries abandon sanctions pressure and return to the path of constructive cooperation.
Lithuania may enforce national sanctions on the transit of Belaruskali due to collisions between European and US sanctions, which continue to allow transit of fertilizers through Lithuania despite Western restrictions. This development provoked an international political controversy and even let to resignations of Lithuanian Foreign Minister and Transport and Communications Minister. Simultaneously, the Lithuanian Railway is looking for ways to return Belaruskali's advance payment for the transit of potash fertilizers in January and February 2022.
Belarusneft was forced to cancel its plans to export oil to Germany via the Druzhba pipeline in 2022 due to Western sanctions imposed on December 2 and extended onto oil and petrochemicals.
In turn, Belarus remained on the global agenda. First, the Belarusian crisis was discussed during an online summit between the leaders of the United States and Russia. Second, during the Summit for Democracy convened by the USA the leader of democratic Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged the Western states to follow a consistent policy concerning Belarus. Third, the new Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz called Lukashenka a dictator with no legitimate support among Belarusians.
Representatives of the Belarusian opposition will meet with the EU leadership before the Eastern Partnership summit, which will be held on December 15. The parties will discuss the development of relations between Belarus and the EU now and after Lukashenka's departure, including possible scenarios for starting a dialogue on new elections and the implementation of the EU Aid Plan for a Democratic Belarus totalling EUR 3 billion.
Official Minsk also risks losing another important European partner in the EU, which traditionally takes a low-key stance on the Belarusian crisis. So far, the Austrian Foreign Ministry has only expressed concerns regarding the detention of the press officer of A1 telecoms (one of the key Austrian investors in Belarus). However, Minsk’s actions are likely to have more tangible consequences for the Austrian economic presence in Belarus.
In this regard, on December 13, the EU Council is likely to expand the sanctions list for violations in the field of human rights in Belarus. Whether it happens or not, amidst yet another wave of repressions, discussions in Brussels of the Belarusian issues before or within the framework of the Eastern Partnership will lead to preparations for the 6th package of sanctions.