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Sanctions make it possible to save the lives of political prisoners

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"Sanctions make it possible to save the lives of political prisoners. That’s the main thing to understand in this matter". Experts discuss sanctions against the Lukashenko regime at the international webinar of the National Anti-Crisis Management

The international webinar was devoted to the topic of sanctions' effectiveness in protecting human rights and pressuring the regime to stop mass repressions in Belarus, which is currently actively discussed by the Belarusian and international community.

Pavel Latushka, head of the National Anti-Crisis Management, made the opening speech. Also speaking at the webinar were Andrei Sannikov, Daniel Fried, Ales Alekhnovich, Siarhei Dylewski, representative of the Mozyr refinery and Jörg Forbrig.

Pavel Latushka: Head of the NAM Member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council
Pavel Latushka: Head of the NAM Member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council

"Does the EU have the political will to protect its values?", Pavel Latushko, Head of the National Anti-Crisis Management

— Sanctions are an effective tool to stop repression and bring about peaceful change in Belarus.

Their effectiveness depends on reality, not declarative, which is the case today, and their urgency. The scale of repression is so high that, together with domestic pressure, effective sanctions will be short-lived and lead to quick political changes that will not damage the economy and ensure its further development once the political situation changes.

The EU and its member states are facing an acute question which leads beyond the usual comfortable political routine: whether the EU, as a community of the states based, first of all, on the common values of respect for human rights and freedoms, has the political will to protect these values in its neighbouring European countries. The answer to this question is extremely important for the Belarusians, but it seems to be equally important for the European Union itself.

Andrei Sannikov: leader of the civil campaign
Andrei Sannikov: leader of the civil campaign "European Belarus"

"Sanctions make it possible to save lives". Andrei Sannikov, leader of the civil campaign "European Belarus"

— Sanctions not only freed me from prison, but probably saved my life. Sanctions have saved the lives of political prisoners around the world. And that is the most important thing to understand in this matter.

There have never been any real long-term sanctions against Belarus that could have had an effect. At the same time, even short-term sanctions had an effect — the release of political prisoners.
There is a downside to sanctions. When they are lifted despite the lack of improvement in terms of human rights, the dictator takes it as a sign for further crimes. After the sanctions were lifted in 2016, the dictator started to prepare for a repression in 2020 against civilians, using Europe’s money, among other things. In the war against the Belarusian people, the regime used European and American weaponry and technology.

Behind the speculation that sanctions are pushing Belarus towards Russia, experts miss the fact that Russia has long been using the tool of sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime. And it is this that poses a threat to the independence of Belarus. We know about them: oil and gas price haggling, trade, tariff wars and so on. While the West is shying away, Russia is undermining the foundations of independence of Belarus with the help of sanctions. At the same time, it warns the West not to interfere in the internal affairs of Belarus.

Daniel Fried: US Atlantic Council
Daniel Fried: US Atlantic Council

"Information from democratic forces is important." Daniel Fried, US Atlantic Council

— We often overestimate the short-term impact of sanctions and underestimate their long-term impact. Sanctions are a tool against the Lukashenko regime.

The US authorities should make decisions on imposing sanctions in consultation with democratic forces in Belarus. Economic sanctions against Belarus may include sanctions against companies associated with Lukashenko’s regime. There should also be sanctions against Russians who are associated with repression in Belarus, or companies from Russia who are somehow associated with Lukashenko or who use the crisis in Belarus for their own purposes.

Any sanctions must act to start respecting human rights. The information we will get from the democratic forces in Belarus is very important. The USA, England and the EU should work together on sanctions.

Aleś Alachnovič: Sviatlana Tikhanovska’s economic representative
Aleś Alachnovič: Sviatlana Tikhanovska’s economic representative

"Every day of the regime in power worsens the economy." Aleś Alachnovič, Sviatlana Tikhanovska’s economic representative

— Let us look at what the situation in Belarus looks like without sanctions. The economy has not been growing for the last 10 years. Since 2011, it has grown 3−4 times slower annually than the global and neighbouring economies. After 26 years of Lukashenka’s rule, Belarus has become the country with the lowest minimum wage and with the third lowest average wage in Europe (after Moldova and Ukraine, which may outrun Belarus in 2021).

Even without sanctions the situation will worsen every year. The last 10 years have been a lost decade for the Belarusian economy. Against the backdrop of repression after the rigged elections in 2020, every day of the rule of an illegitimate regime negatively affects society and the economy.

Belarus has no future under the regime. Only new free elections can create the conditions for reforms that will give impetus to accelerated development and sustainable long-term economic growth.

To stop repression and release political prisoners, economic pressure on the regime is necessary. The more repression, the more pressure. Economic pressure is needed to protect people — that is the basic message. Without this we will not free our fellow citizens who are suffering for nothing.

Are the sanctions working? The reaction of the authorities shows that they do. All the regime’s actions show that it is afraid of sanctions.

Against the backdrop of pressure, economic support is no less important. I am talking about the EU plan, which will be announced soon. We are counting on the USA, the UK, Canada and a number of other countries to join this plan. We need to work to ensure that once the repression stops and free elections are held, the economy can quickly recover.

Siarhei Dylewski: member of the Presidium of the СС, leader of the strike movement
Siarhei Dylewski: member of the Presidium of the СС, leader of the strike movement

"Sanctions against enterprises are important". Siarhei Dylewski, member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council, leader of the strike movement

— The attitude of workers to the sanctions is positive. All citizens who support the protest in Belarus understand why we need sanctions. Those who are in strikes or preparing for strikes, are prepared to face uncomfortable situations for themselves economically because of the sanctions. I would like to point out that sanctions are important against businesses that feed the regime.

"Sanctions must be massive". Yuri Gagarin (pseudonym), Mozyr refinery worker

— Not only are repressed workers in favour of sanctions, but also active, highly qualified professionals support any possible mechanisms to resolve the crisis in the country and bring back law and justice. Many are willing to endure material hardship for the sake of others. But how long to endure? To shorten this time, many believe, sanctions must be massive, to achieve effect in the shortest possible time.

The sooner we push back from the bottom and start rebuilding and reforming, the better. People are in favour of any action if it will not allow them to live in the same country as the regime’s criminals. It is not only a political issue, but also a question of basic needs — security.

It is in everyone’s interest that the transformation takes place in the short term. On behalf of the workers, I declare that the sanctions must be extensive.

Jörg Forbrig: German Marshall Fund
Jörg Forbrig: German Marshall Fund

"The Russia factor should be kept in mind." Jörg Forbrig, German Marshall Fund

— I am sure that sanctions help and work as a tool, but at the same time I see the drawbacks of this tool, especially in the case of the European Union. Sanctions work in waves for a long time. It is very important to understand that EU sanctions are not strategic, but reactive, i.e. they are by no means the result of a long-term strategy. Unfortunately, when it comes to its eastern neighbours, the EU has a big problem with a strategy into which sanctions could be embedded.

I think that when we talk about sanctions against Belarus, we should always keep in mind the factor of Russia and Russians who support the Lukashenko regime.

Minsk has repeatedly exploited weaknesses in the system of European sanctions. Their introduction requires much political effort and time, but their results are not always meaningful. We should broaden our vision of sanctions policy options and assess the significance of country-specific sanctions, which are often more comprehensive in nature. I think that such sanctions will have an additional effect.

The US has more active tools to initiate economic pressure on the regime than the EU. I fully agree that a new sanctions package is needed from the EU side, but in general more tools should be used to increase the pressure, e.g., public actions against companies that continue to cooperate with the regime.