BRUSSELS (AP) – The United States, European Union, Britain and Canada imposed simultaneous sanctions Thursday on dozens of officials, organizations and businesses in Belarus, with the EU targeting people accused of participating in a “hybrid attack” against the bloc using migrants.
The three countries and the EU-27 have targeted Belarus since President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term last year in an election that the West and other observers deem fraudulent, and because of the security crackdown that followed the peaceful demonstrators.
The US State Department said the US Treasury had “identified three planes as blocked property and designated 32 people and entities, including Belarusian state-owned companies, government officials and others, who support the regime and facilitate its repression “.
The EU, meanwhile, has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 17 other people, including senior border guard and military officials, government officials and judges.
The measures also affected air carriers – including the national carrier Belavia – and traveler groups accused by the EU of helping bring migrants to Belarus in a bid to help them cross the bloc of 27 countries, mainly via Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Britain said it had imposed sanctions “on eight Belarusian people responsible for repression and human rights violations.” It also froze the assets of OJSC Belaruskali, one of the world’s largest producers of potash fertilizers, which is a major source of income for the Belarusian government.
The State Department said that “today’s actions demonstrate our unwavering determination to act in the face of a brutal regime that increasingly represses Belarusians, undermines the peace and security of Europe and continues to abuse people who only seek to live in freedom ”.
At least 8,000 migrants, many of them Iraqis, entered the EU without permission this year from Belarus. Lithuania and Poland have declared states of emergency at their borders to prevent people from crossing. Several people died, trapped in the border area between Poland and Belarus in sub-zero temperatures.
READ MORE: Poland uses garden hoses against migrants, condemns Belarus for attack
With this in mind, the EU has targeted Belavia. “Migrants wishing to cross the external border of the Union traveled to Minsk on board flights operated by Belavia from a number of countries in the Middle East, in particular Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) united) and Turkey ”, indicates the text of the sanctions.
Cham Wing Airlines, which operates flights between Syria and Belarus, is also in the EU’s sights. He is accused of having increased the number of flights from Damascus to Minsk during the summer and of having opened new offices in the Belarusian capital to better organize shuttles.
State tourism company Tsentrkurort is also on the list, which the EU says has helped at least 51 Iraqis obtain visas for Belarus and organized their bus transport to the borders.
The company Hotel Minsk and the Hotel Planeta, which are linked to the management of the property management of the Belarusian president, are accused of harboring migrants aiming to reach the border.
The EU has also targeted VIP Grub, a passport and visa service based in Istanbul, Turkey. The sanctions list says the company “organizes trips to Belarus with the explicit intention of facilitating migration to the EU. VIP Grub actively promotes migration to the EU.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry accused Thursday that the new sanctions are aimed at “economically strangling Belarus, making Belarusian life as hard as possible” and destroying Belarus “as a sovereign and economically prosperous state”.
The ministry rejected allegations that the Belarusian government orchestrated the migrant crisis and blamed the EU for undermining “stability and security in our region”. In a statement, he called the EU “the initiator of the spiral of sanctions and aggression” and pledged “hard and asymmetrical” measures in response.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would not tolerate “the orchestrated and politically motivated instrumentalization of human beings by the Lukashenko regime”.
“This cynical strategy of exploiting vulnerable people is a heinous attempt to deflect attention from the regime’s continued disregard for international law, fundamental freedoms and human rights in Belarus,” Borrell said in a statement.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition leader in exile, echoed his sentiment.
“The regime artificially created a crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, cynically using migrants, living people, like a ram,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “But instead of regaining its legitimacy and attention, Lukashenko realized the opposite – the EU did not give in to the pressure and imposed new sanctions.”
Jill Lawless in London and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.