EU considers new measures against Belarus

3 minute read

European Union flags are seen outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

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BRUSSELS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - The European Union is considering new restrictive measures to close loopholes on existing sanctions against Belarus, EU officials and diplomats said, noting the bloc was also working on sanctions if Minsk participated in an invasion of Ukraine.

The discussion comes amid concern in Western countries over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, which could include Russian troops stationed in Belarus. Moscow denies that it is planning an invasion.

Amid the growing tensions, the EU last week told non-essential staff to relocate abroad from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, one EU diplomat said, while Ukraine is urging the EU to provide emergency support and military training.

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Sanctions on Belarus were initially imposed after the President Alexander Lukashenko crushed protests following elections in August 2020, and have been tightened several times since then.

The diplomats said new measures could be aimed at closing loopholes that Baltic diplomats said are being exploited by Minsk to circumvent existing sanctions.

The EU has banned Belarus' exports of potash, a fertilizer made of potassium, and oil products. But diplomats said Belarus is still exporting potassium to the EU via Ukraine, and has also boosted its export to the EU of oil products obtained from coal.

Later on Friday an EU official confirmed in a media briefing that work was under way for possible new economic sanctions against Minsk, including on potash. The official added that the bloc was also considering sanctions against Belarus if it participated in any attack against Ukraine.

Baltic country officials are expected to raise these issues at Monday's meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers, even if Belarus is not on the meeting agenda. No decision on the matter is expected on Monday.

A spokesperson for the EU diplomatic service declined to comment on discussions over sanctions.

UKRAINE

EU ministers are also expected to consider new support to Ukraine.

Kyiv made a request this week to the EU for emergency assistance that could include medical supplies, electricity generators and other first-aid equipment needed in case of attack from Russia, one EU official said.

EU countries, which have so far avoided sending weapons to Ukraine, are considering heeding these requests using the EU civil protection mechanism, the official said.

A spokesperson for the EU Commission, which coordinates civil protection support, later confirmed that Ukraine made a request for help on Feb. 15 and that the EU was coordinating offers from EU countries.

Ukraine has also requested EU support against hybrid and cyberattacks. That could be discussed at Monday's meeting together with plans for a possible EU military training mission in Ukraine, diplomats said.

The EU did not announce explicitly the withdrawal of some staff from its Kyiv delegation, but has said that the presence of personnel there could be adjusted. The EU delegation remains operational.

"This was not an evacuation but an adjustment of the presence at the workplace in Kyiv taking into account security circumstances," the EU diplomatic service spokesperson told Reuters.

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Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio, Additional reporting by John Chalmers and Robin Emmott; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry

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