Lithuanian govt readies support for companies hit by sanctions on Belarus

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Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte speaks to media as she visits Lithuanian border guard school in Dubiciai, Lithuania June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

VILNIUS, June 21 (Reuters) - The Lithuanian government stands ready to provide support to its enterprises as they get hit by European sanctions on Belarus, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Monday.

Outraged at the forced landing of a Ryanair passenger plane in Minsk on May 23 to arrest a dissident journalist, EU states are set to soon impose economic sanctions on Belarus' economy including exports of the fertilizer potash, a major source of its income. read more

Lithuania, which has repeatedly nudged the EU towards pressuring neighbouring Belarus' government and is hosting exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is also the main transit route for Belarus potash exports.

Lithuania's government supports sanctioning potash, despite its state-owned enterprises standing to lose tens of millions of euros per year from servicing the trade.

"The government will definitely measure the impact, and as much governmental support for infrastructure or any other area would be needed, as much will be there", Simonyte told reporters in Vilnius.

Belarus state-owned Belaruskali, one of world's major suppliers of potash, can produce 13.2 million tonnes of the fertilizer annually, according to Fitch Ratings.

Lithuania's Klaipeda port shipped almost 10.7 million tonnes of Belarus potash last year, through a terminal 30%-owned by Belaruskali as of Dec. 31.

The potash was 23% of 2020's cargo at the state-operated port, which collected a total of 58 million euros in tolls from ships visiting that year. "If possible, we would ask for government support to compensate for lost income", the port's spokeswoman told Reuters.

Belarus paid over 60 million euros in 2020 to Lithuania's state-owned railway company to transport the potash, or about 15% of its 387 million-euro cargo revenue that year, a company spokesman said.

It would take years to find other cargo to replace that from Belarus, said the spokesman, Mantas Dubauskas.

"We are pleased with the government's position on possible infrastructure assistance, as keeping the Lithuanian railway network competitive is crucial for the future", he added.

Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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