Lukashenka as ‘head of state smuggling company’: EU may impose stricter sanctions on Belarus airline amid migration crisis

EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs are meeting in Luxembourg: today’s Foreign Affairs Council is chaired by Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Among others, the participants are expected to discuss the Belarusian issue; according to Borrell, the Eastern Partnership ‘continues being troubled by Belarus’.

Latvian FM Edgars Rinkēvičs. Photo: RFE/RL

Before the start of the meeting, a number of ministers answered the press’ questions.

“Well, first of all we need to discuss the situation and we need to introduce more, stricter sanctions, especially taking into account that Belarus and Mr Lukashenka is still continuing to use migration as a hybrid weapon, and I think we seriously need to consider more pressure when it comes to tourism, so called tourism sector. Also we definitely need to discuss how we can still support journalists, media and civil society. It means to put also called tourism companies that are organizing flights. I also believe we need to sanction [Belarusian national air carrier] Belavia fully, that they cannot receive any kind of support, so that means more sanctions. It means that Belavia is put in the full sanction list so that it doesn’t receive any technical support that there are no any connecting flights,” Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, told journalists.

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When asked whether the EU based aircraft leasing companies’ would continue doing business with the Belarusian airline Belavia, Simon Coveney, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence of Ireland, said that they would also make the distinction between sanctions that would involve no further or future aircraft leasing to Belavia in contrast to existing contracts that are in place, where there are legal obligations.

“What I’m saying is that where there are existing contracts, we’re not sure how that can be unwound legally, but certainly we’re saying that there should be no future contracts or additional aircraft leasing to Belarus, but we are of course open to talk about how the Commission ant the EU can increase pressure here because it’s a completely unacceptable situation that Belarus are deliberately bringing migrants from other parts of the world and then putting them in a very vulnerable situation, in an effort to try to raise political pressure with the EU, which is exactly what this is about,” he specified.

Migrants jam-pack Minsk Airport, head to border cities Hrodna and Brest, sleep on streets (pics, videos)

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that he would like to use today’s opportunity to address one of the more pressing issues for both Lithuania and Europe, i.e. the migration flows which are ‘not diminishing’ at the moment.

“We are trying to find the ways how to stop them and today’s question for my colleagues here at around the table. What tools do countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Poland need to use or can use in order to stop the weaponized migration that is being forced on the European Union? Because currently we are very much lacking the instruments and I think that we’re a little bit dragging our feet in order to fight this this new phenomenon of hybrid weaponized migration. Too bad that Lukashenka and his regime are not stepping down with the efforts to bring more people to European border. They are employing new flights from number of countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa in order to bring people, deceive people with the hopes of easy entry to the European Union to capital of Minsk and then to Lithuanian, Latin and Polish border,” he said.

‘We must be firm against Lukashenka’: European Commissioner faults regime for state-sponsored migrant smuggling

In his opinion, one of such measures should be suspending the flights that carry potential migrants to Minsk. The Lithuanian minister recalled ‘useful steps’ taken by the European Union, i.e. resorting to diplomatic means to stop the flights from Iraq, then those from Jordan and Lebanon.

In turn, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called Alyaksandr Lukashenka ‘nothing more than the head of a state smuggling company’.

“And we are no longer prepared to see that there are also companies for airlines that also earn money by bringing refugees to Germany or other European countries. And that’s why we will have to talk about the consequences for such airlines. And that we need sanctions with which we can make clear that we are not ready to accept this behaviour any longer,” the diplomat said.

Migrants on borders of EU: How Lukashenka taking revenge for Western sanctions, following