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In a broadly coordinated move designed to put a stop to the ongoing migrant crisis at the EU-Belarus border, on 2 December 2021, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada imposed additional sanctions on Belarus and called on Belarus President Lukashenko to immediately halt efforts to force irregular migration across its borders with the EU.

Following a joint statement, the allies moved in tandem to impose coordinated sanctions against Belarusian entities and individuals, in response to the “continuing attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus, disregard for international norms and repeated acts of repression”.

EU measures

Before proceeding to adding parties to its Belarus sanctions list, on 15 November 2021, the EU broadened the listing criteria through which Belarusian individuals and entities may be designated and introduced exceptions to the existing prohibitions on providing insurance/re-insurance.

A. EU designation criteria and designations

Under Council Regulation (EU) 2021/1985 and Council Decision (CFSP) 2021/1990, individuals and entities may now be designated for organising or contributing to activities by President Lukashenko’s regime that facilitate:

(i) the illegal crossing of the external borders of the Union; or

(ii) the transfer of prohibited goods and the illegal transfer of restricted goods, including hazardous goods, into the territory of the Union.

Under these additional designation criteria, on 2 December 2021, the EU imposed sanctions on 17 individuals and 11 entities. These include:

  • state-owned national carrier Belavia Belarusian Airlines for its involvement in facilitating the transport of migrants from the Middle East to Belarus by opening new air routes and expanding the number of flights on existing routes as well as supporting President Lukashenko’s regime;
  • Syria’s Cham Wings Airlines for increasing the number of flights from Damascus to Minsk since the summer of 2021 in order to transport migrants to Belarus who illegally crossed the borders of the EU;
  • oil producer Belarusneft for being responsible for the repression of civil society in Belarus;
  • nitrogen fertiliser producer Grodno Azot for being a substantial source of revenue for President Lukashenko’s regime; and
  • tour operators and hotels that facilitated the issuing of visas and provision of accommodation to migrants coming to Belarus as well as judges and public officials that support President Lukashenko’s regime.

The EU’s measures against these individuals and entities include travel bans and asset freezes, meaning that EU citizens and companies are prohibited from making funds available to them. The EU’s fresh measures are clearly aimed at further targeting key players in the Belarusian economy.

B. EU exception to insurance/re-insurance prohibition

More pragmatically, under Council Regulation (EU) 2021/1986 and Council Decision (CFSP) 2021/1989 the EU adopted exceptions to the prohibition on providing insurance/re-insurance to the Belarusian government, its public bodies, corporations and agencies and natural or legal persons acting on their behalf or at their direction. 

In particular, insurance/re-insurance prohibitions do not apply to the provision of compulsory or third-party liability insurance to persons, entities or bodies in Belarus where the risk insured is located in the EU or where providing insurance is for Belarusian diplomatic or consular missions in the EU. 

UK designations

Whilst the UK has not yet broadened its existing sanctions designation criteria with respect to Belarus in the same way that the EU has done, it has expanded its sanctions list to include eight additional individuals and OJSC Belaruskali, a major Belarusian producer of potassium chloride (potash) fertiliser and source of revenue and foreign currency for the Lukashenko regime.

With the designation of Belaruskali, the UK has moved to target a key player of the Belarusian economy, in line with existing U.S. sanctions, even though Belaruskali and other entities operating in the Belarusian potash sector have been spared from being sanctioned by the EU to date.