Belarusian potash workers call for tougher EU sanctions


The EU will have to strike harder against Belarus’ biggest company, potash maker Belaruskali, to influence the regime, its workers said.

“The current sanctions do little to harm BelarusKali’s ability to work in the EU,” the strike committee of the Belarusian company, which manufactures potash, a fertilizer component, told EUobserver on Saturday (July 3).

“The regime can still trade in fertilizers and transport contraband cigarettes to [train] cars with them, ”he added.

“For sufficient pressure it is necessary to include all types of potash [in the EU ban], and all stakeholders both in Belarus and abroad, ”he also said, naming the Austrian company Soltrade as Belaruskali’s key partner in Europe.

Belaruskali manufactures a fifth of the world’s potash and brings in more than 2 billion euros per year in foreign currency to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The EU recently imposed economic sanctions on Belarus after Lukashenko hijacked an airliner to seize an opposition activist.

But it only banned 15 percent of Belarusian types of potash, in a deliberate loophole.

The EU has also authorized loans from the Belarusian State Development Bank.

And he left various types of petroleum products out of the question.

One of the EU’s reasons for the loopholes was to limit the fallout against ordinary Belarusians, EU officials and diplomats said.

But Belarusian Kali workers did not agree with this type of thinking.

“The sanctions only harm those in power, who support the dictatorship and the fascist regime. The workers (…) have lost the right to demonstrate and defend their interests,” said the strike committee.

And Lukashenko was already finding ways to evade sanctions anyway, he added.

“With the help of Russia, with the help of the modification of commodity codes [in customs papers], with the help of corruption, lobbyists, with the help of the trade of political prisoners. This is only a small part of the methods that the Lukashenko gang usually uses [to evade punishment], said the strike committee.

Meanwhile, another reason for the EU’s approach was to hold a stick over Lukashenko’s head, instead of just hitting him, to try and change his behavior.

“The EU would not adopt these sanctions if we did not believe that they could have the desired effect,” said EU external relations spokesman Peter Stano.

“This is not the end of the story. The EU will continue to assess the situation on the ground to determine whether further EU measures are warranted,” said Stano.

But the situation continued to deteriorate in the days following the adoption of the sanctions.

Migrants

Lithuania declared a state of emergency on Friday after Lukashenko pushed hundreds of African and Arab refugees across its border in recent days in retaliation for EU sanctions.

“Lukashenko is transporting refugees from Iraq… Cameroon, Mali,” Natalia Koliada, a Belarusian emigrant living in London, told EUobserver.

And he was organizing the campaign with Mikhail Gutseriev, a Russian oligarch recently blacklisted by the EU, she added.

“When they [refugees] are brought to Minsk, they are accommodated in the hotel of Gutseriev – the Renaissance hotel. It is a hybrid war that Lukashenko has launched against Europe, ”she said.

Lukashenko also caught Lithuania’s attention when he began to bypass anti-aircraft missiles near its border on Thursday and Friday.

“Lithuania is monitoring the situation closely,” Defense Minister Arvydas AnuÅ¡auskas said on this website on Saturday.

“As far as we know (…) the current missile movement is linked to preparations for the ‘Zapad’ military exercise,” AnuÅ¡auskas said, referring to Zapad 2021, a planned joint Belarusian-Russian military exercise in September, rather than a new provocation.

But Koliada, who said the EU blacklist should have targeted at least 20 other Gutseriev-type oligarchs, echoed Belaruskali workers by saying the EU pressure was too weak to make him change his policies. habits.

“The EU is still in ‘wait and see’ mode … but what exactly needs to happen to transform the so-called progressive approach into synchronized and strong EU action?” She added.

Summarizing the EU’s previous efforts to try to exert influence in Minsk during the last three decades of Lukashenko’s rule, another opposition activist, who asked not to be named, said the crackdown in Belarus and EU sanctions moved in predictable cycles.

“We [the EU] strangled him, strangled him, strangled him, strangled him, we strangled him a bit for a very long time, then we got tired and took a break for recreation – that’s politics of the EU, ”the contact said.

Direct help

Meanwhile, the Belarusian strike committee also called on the EU to give money directly to activists in Belarus instead of channeling it through opposition structures in exile in Lithuania.

“Help civil society and workers in Belarus, not in Vilnius. Directly,” he said in his statement.

Some activists were struggling to buy ink cartridges for printers to make leaflets calling for protests, EUobserver contacts said.

Others struggled to pay for gasoline to get to level crossings to vandalize signals, so they could slow trains of potash or Belarusian petroleum products to Russia so that Russian companies could resell them in Europe, thus avoiding the new restrictions.

“People feel exhausted,” an activist leader told this website.

“I’m angry. I’m like a dog tied to a chain – I know how to attack, but the chain won’t let me,” the contact said.

“The current opposition is divided and undermined. It needs help and dedication from the collective West … It is the start of a long game. Not the end,” said Kostiantyn Yelisieiev , former Ukrainian presidential aide and EU ambassador, also told EUobserver.

And the game is not limited to Lukashenko himself, added Yelisieiev, who now heads New Solutions Center, a think tank in Kiev.

“Russia’s objective is to swallow Belarus as soon as it can and transform it into a quasi-autonomous region of the Russian Federation (…) Lukashenko’s objective is to postpone this moment as much as ‘he can,’ Yelisieiev said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s game is also to ensure that pro-democracy forces in Belarus collapse to set an example for the rest of the region.

Enlargement

“Let’s be clear, Belarus is the arm of Russia. If it hits back at the EU, it’s not Belarus that’s doing it, it’s Russia. It’s not Lukashenko, it’s [Russian president.Vladimir] Putin, ”Yelisieiev said.

And if the EU really wanted to help people in Belarus and beyond, then it should go beyond sanctions and offer them a prospect of EU membership in order to inspire change, he said. added.

“Democratic forces in Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and even Armenia are desperate for courageous and decisive signals from the EU on the European perspective,” Yelisieiev said.


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