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  • Writer's pictureVladislav Inozemtsev

On Sanctions against Belarus

Sanctions are a powerful tool of pressure on autocratic regimes, but only if they are adopted logically and consistently. Doctor of Economics V. Inozemtsev and Belarusian politician V. Prokopiev argue about what measures could be effective against Belarus.

The developments in the Republic of Belarus that preceded and followed the so called ‘presidential elections’ held on August 9, 2020, as well as the ensuing massive human rights violations, the interception of foreign passenger jet for taking out one of Aleksander Lukashenka’s political opponents and the ongoing migrant crisis on the Belarus-EU borders caused a noticeable reaction from Western countries. From August 2020 to August 2021, more than 35 nations introduced econo-mic and political sanctions against Belarus, which in total target 178 individuals and 11 enterprises or organizations (including government-owned and non-profit ones, such as Belarusian Olympic Committee). We should remind that multiple sanctions against Belarus caused by massive violation of human rights and electo-ral freedoms have been in effect since the first half of the 2000s, but for the first time since 1999 the European Union announced a ban on flights of civil aircraft to a European country and even recommended its air carriers to abandon Belarusian airspace . After the rigged and contested ‘elections’ Aleksander Lukashenka wasn’t recognized as the legitimate president of Belarus by any Western power, and this fact significantly limited his possibilities to balance between ‘the West’ (i.e. Europe and U.S.) and the East (i.e. Russia), which he played for many years (here we should mention, however, that the unfolding ‘migrant’ crisis organized by Lukashenka on Belarus-EU borders, forced several EU leaders, and most notably the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to talk to him as to someone responsible for the developments inside Belarus and able to change their course).

Today Belarus, alongside with Russia, appears to be one of the few European cou­ntries being sanctioned by the Western nations, but there are serious differences between these two cases – and we would argue that the sanctions against Belarus mayturnouttobe much more effective than those against the Russian Federation.

We see at least four reasons for this to happen.

First, the events of 2020-2021 that resulted in major part of sanctions against Belarus, occurred quite recently and/or represent developing stories, which could make the ongoing sanctions response lo­gical and timely – while in the Russian case, where serious new violations of international law have been recorded several years ago, there is practically no reason to assu­me the sanctions will be toughened.

Secondly, the Belarusian economy does not have even a relatively comparable importance for Western nations (in 2020, merchandise exports from the EU, UK and the United States to Belarus ac­counted to $7.2 billion, while those designated to Russia top $98.6 billion) that implies a relatively low influence of lobbying groups that may oppose the imposition of sanctions, and companies that could seriously suffer from them.

Thirdly, Belarus is very limited in its retaliation measures: apart from political provocations on the border with Lithuania and Poland with the use of illegal mi­grants, it has little ways to harm either the European Union and the United States, since both do not depend on it either economically or geopolitically (unlike on Russia, which can close its markets to the Western goods or [at least hypothetic­ally] use a full-scale ‘energy bla­ckmail’ [In contrast, Lukashenka’s claim that he may interrupt gas sup­ply to Europe via Gazprom-owned pipeline went almost unnoticed]). Fourthly, the political situation in Belarus looks unstable due to constant internal pressure on the regime, which, with the effective use of sanctions, can increase causing collapse of the current government (to expect the same hap­pening in Russia would be, to our mind, a remarkable mistake). All these circums­tan­ces indicate that Belarus is almost an ideal target for radical sanctions if their purpose were to change the political course of the country and to return it to the democratic path.

It should be noted that both successful (for example, in the case of Yugoslavia in 1992-1995) and unsuccessful (as in the case of Russia after 2014) cases of sanction pressure suggest there is little hope for its gradual strengthening, as well as for the authorities of the country under sanctions will cha­n­ge their policy or their beha­vior after they are in place for several years. The only effective strategy consists in delivering a series of strikes within a short period of time that mightcause too grave consequences for the safety and survivability of the regime to be ignored.

The mistake of most previous sanctions was that they were noticeable enough so that the mere fact of overcoming them demonstrated to the population the strength and invulnerability of the authoritarian leader, but not radical enough to really dry up the financial flows that sustain the regime and thereby seriously weaken it.

There is still a chance in Belarus for a different scenario.

In this report, we will try to assess the effect of the already imposed sanctions, propose a series of new sanctions tools and formulate a scenario for successful de­mocratiza­tion and Europeanization of Belarus that its people definitely deserve.

Full text is available only to partners of the think tank.


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