EU set to broaden Belarus sanctions as tensions grow at border

Measures will target airlines and travel agencies thought to be bringing migrants to bloc’s frontier in Poland

Soldiers patrol around a military base in Wiejki, Poland, close to Belarusian border. Photograph: JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

EU foreign ministers will widen sanctions on Belarus on Monday to include airlines and travel agencies thought to involved in bringing migrants to the bloc’s border, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

The EU has accused Belarus of encouraging migrants to come to its territory and pushing thousands of them to cross into Poland and other neighbouring EU states in retaliation for sanctions already imposed on Minsk.

Two diplomats said on Thursday the EU is considering imposing sanctions on Belarus’ main airport in a bid to make it more difficult for airlines to bring in migrants.

The bloc’s foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday.

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“We will give the green light to extending the legal framework of our sanctions against Belarus so that it can be applied to everyone who participates in smuggling migrants to this country,” Mr Borrell told French weekend newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

He added that executives at airlines and travel agencies could be hit with travel bans and asset freezes in the European Union. Some 30 Belarus government officials thought to be involved in the crisis could also be targeted with sanctions, Mr Borrell said.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, already under international sanctions for cracking down on protests, has threatened to retaliate against any new measures, including by shutting down the transit of natural gas via Belarus.

A group of about 50 migrants broke through defences on the border with Belarus and entered Poland near the village of Starzyna, police said on Sunday, as the situation on the frontier becomes increasingly tense.

Thousands of migrants have travelled to Belarus in the hope of crossing into the EU, only to find themselves trapped on the border in freezing conditions.

The EU accuses Minsk of orchestrating the crisis to put pressure on the bloc over sanctions it has imposed, but Belarus has repeatedly denied this.

Some countries in the region have warned the stand-off could escalate into a military conflict. – Reuters