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Sanctions as a Tool to Bring About Change

NAM expert group responsible for economic pressure (economic issues)

Would it be better for Belarus to remove sanctions from the Lukashenko regime or to remove Lukashenko himself? Let's address this issue. We will provide our answer at the end of the video, and we eagerly await your thoughts in the comments, if it is safe for you.

Meanwhile, let's delve into the essence of sanctions, their primary objectives, impact, and, of course, the criticism surrounding them.

1. What are sanctions and why are they needed?

Sanctions are a tool used to hold accountable those who grossly violate international law, including human rights abuses, involvement in military aggression, and other illegal actions.

Sanctions effectively deprive the regime of resources such as foreign currency and investments. They disrupt the system, bringing it closer to collapse rather than prolonging its existence.

Economic sanctions targeting Lukashenko's inner circle and affiliated businesses make those individuals question the viability of supporting a regime that generates more losses than income. As a result, sanctions also contribute to the polarization in the so-called elite.

Furthermore, dictatorial regimes may be compelled to make concessions under the pressure of sanctions. A recent example is Venezuela, where Nicolas Maduro recently agreed to release political prisoners and hold democratic elections with the participation of democratic opponents.

Indeed, sanctions are not a panacea, but they serve as an effective measure to compel violators of international law to halt their criminal activities.

Critics often claim that sanctions do not topple regimes. However, when designed and implemented correctly, they create the conditions for the eventual demise of such regimes.

Sanctions represent the resources available to democratic forces and our partners today, enabling us to engage with the regime from a position of strength. It is crucial that we accumulate this resource and strength, as it will eventually yield results.

2. Sanctions and Belarusians – Our Position

We assert the necessity of distinguishing between Belarusians, who are predominantly opposed to the war, Lukashenko, and the dictatorial regime. Fortunately, our Western partners generally heed our perspective on this matter.

Concerning Belarusians, there are currently no measures as those imposed on Russian citizens, whose cars with Russian license plates have even been subject to confiscation. We consistently advocate for the interests of Belarusian citizens and endeavor to avoid discriminatory measures against Belarusians and Belarusian women worldwide.

3. How is the architecture of sanctions designed?

The architecture of sanctions against Belarus, despite the application of sectoral sanctions, is still designed to minimize its impact on the general population.

This approach is influenced by the structure of the Belarusian economy under the current regime, which primarily benefits the regime itself through control of the most profitable sectors. Consequently, sanctions primarily target the "wallets" of the regime, such as the export of raw materials controlled by the dictator, as well as the import of military and dual-use goods and technologies, often directly controlled by his mafia clan.

4. What do the opponents say?

Opponents of sanctions often claim that they adversely affect citizens. For instance, they argue that many foreign medicines have disappeared from the shelves.

However, the disappearance of medicines in Belarusian pharmacies is not due to sanctions. There have been no sanctions imposed on medicines, medical equipment, or food at all.

The reality is that many Western companies independently choose to avoid collaboration with toxic counterparts from Belarus. These cases are not a result of sanctions but rather the regime's actions, which burden citizens with problems. Companies are distancing themselves not from Belarusians but from Lukashenko. In fact, without the regime's influence, international pharmaceutical businesses would likely engage more actively in the Belarusian market.

Another crucial aspect regarding medicines is that Belarus has a highly centralized and nearly monopolized system for purchasing imported medicines. If the Belarusian pharmaceutical market were more competitive, similar to the food market, there would be fewer issues with medicines.

If the market were more open, entrepreneurs would readily import the necessary medicines, just as they import foreign chips or shrimp for quick profits. However, since the dictator's family and associates have essentially monopolized the pharmaceutical market, problems persist. Sanctions have no connection to these issues.

Sanctions also have no bearing on the matter of removing Belarusian citizens from Israel after a terrorist attack by Hamas militants. For instance, nothing prevents Belavia aircraft from operating commercial flights to Turkey or India. Furthermore, sanctions measures include exceptions for humanitarian emergencies, which is precisely the situation in this case.

However, Lukashenko and his officials display little interest in the fate and safety of Belarusians; instead, they manipulate and distort concepts as their favored method. A similar example occurred when there were no sanctions yet, but the Covid-19 pandemic began, and Belarusian citizens in various countries urgently needed evacuation. Despite the urgency, Lukashenko personally ordered against organizing evacuations, leaving Belarusians to fend for themselves.

5. Are sanctions pushing Belarus towards Russia?

Another argument put forth by opponents of sanctions is that sanctions are driving Belarus closer to Russia. However, even before any sanctions were imposed, Lukashenko himself took steps in this direction by agreeing to support Putin in suppressing the peaceful protests of 2020. Belarus' alignment with Russia is solely driven by Lukashenko's desperate desire to retain power at any cost. He is willing to sell off pieces of Belarus's sovereignty to Russia, become a co-aggressor in the war against Ukraine, and transform Belarus into a Russian military outpost.

It would be equally fallacious to argue that sanctions could be lifted from a region like Smolensk to detach it from Russia. Such claims are mere populism and detached from reality.

We must also consider the moral aspect. Removing economic sanctions from Belarus would effectively create a massive loophole for Russia to bypass the sanctions imposed on it. Belarus and Russia share not just a border, but also a common customs space. Under these circumstances, the Belarusian military-industrial complex and the economy, which have been geared toward war, are essentially supporting the Russian military machine in its aggression against Ukraine.

Therefore, we can assert that one of the primary objectives of sanctions is to deprive the aggressor of resources for waging war, to exert control over Belarus, and to bring Ukraine closer to victory. This is a crucial factor for facilitating democratic changes in our country.

Thus, it is not the sanctions that are pushing Belarus toward Russia; it is Lukashenko who is doing so. The regime's dependence on its eastern neighbor began not after the imposition of sanctions, but after Lukashenko's electoral defeat.

Therefore, we argue for the application and expansion of economic and personal sanctions, with the aim of aligning them with the sanctions imposed on Russia and the Lukashenko regime. However, they must be structured in a way that minimally impacts the citizens of our country.

6. What are the current results of our sanctions work?

Thanks to the efforts of the NAM team, the UnitedTransitional Cabinet of Belarus, and other representatives of democratic forces between 2020 and 2023, significant sanctions were imposed by the United States, the EU, and individual member countries. Additionally, 17 other countries (including the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Taiwan) introduced sanctions.

These sanctions targeted almost all key export sectors controlled by the regime (such as fertilizers, oil refining, wood processing, tobacco industry, and the military-industrial complex), the financial system, and over 400 individuals responsible for crimes.

Lukashenko's regime is facing serious difficulties. Russia, through which sanctions are being circumvented, as evidenced by Lukashenko's recent meetings and supported by available statistics, is not fully compensating for the regime's losses.

For example, the total cargo turnover from January to August 2023 decreased by 40.3% compared to the same period in 2021. This decline is accompanied by growing stockpiles of finished products, amounting to 8.2 billion rubles as of September 1 this year. While perhaps not as rapidly and successfully as desired, the sanctions are having an impact.

Increasingly, officials and various "experts" are calling for the lifting of sanctions, using scare tactics and predicting catastrophic consequences such as global hunger, military escalation, or Belarus's further integration into Russia. Recently, an "independent analyst" named Evgeniy Preygerman, whose propaganda article we recently reviewed, exhibited similar rhetoric on the Oxford University political blog.

However, it was only a few months ago that the regime boasted about the ineffectiveness of sanctions.

7. What do we propose to do next?

Yes, sanctions measures are not always 100% effective, but this is not a reason to abandon them; it is a reason to further improve them.

Loopholes need to be closed, and there should be full harmonization of trade sanctions against Russia and the Lukashenko regime.

Additionally, we propose giving priority to more effective sectoral sanctions rather than blocking sanctions on interchangeable enterprises.

We also advocate for the introduction of quotas on Western trade with third countries to close loopholes that allow circumvention of sectoral restrictions. As a maximum measure, we propose a complete ban on the transit of sanctioned products through Belarus.

Furthermore, in the EU, it is necessary to separate the procedure for imposing primary and secondary sanctions, significantly simplifying the latter. By implementing these measures, we can ensure that the sanctions policy is effective and maximizes losses for both the Lukashenko regime and its sponsor in Moscow, while minimizing costs for our Western partners and Belarusian citizens.

For example, we have already achieved measures to tighten export controls in Lithuania. Currently, Lithuanian customs requires a document confirming the destination of the delivery from the manufacturer, not the supplier. We have also submitted the same proposals to the competent authorities of Poland and eagerly await their prompt adoption.

8. Conclusion.

Our task is to eliminate Lukashenko's regime, not to prolong its existence, let alone preserve it. We should not lift sanctions against Lukashenko; rather, he should lift himself.

That is why we continue to work towards increasing sanctions pressure and blocking the easing of sanctions. Alongside other equally important efforts, we aim for the international criminal prosecution of representatives of the regime and Lukashenko personally, including through the issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and the strengthening of his international isolation. All of these actions also contribute to the division within the so-called "elites." Lukashenko should become too toxic of an "asset" even for his own supporters.

Lobbyists and regime-affiliated "experts" may argue the opposite, suggesting that Lukashenko should be given space to maneuver, and perhaps then he will make concessions.

Our response is clear - he already has space. Stop the repression, release political prisoners, and peacefully relinquish power to the people. In return, all sanctions will be immediately lifted, and Belarus will receive billions of euros from the European Union as part of the economic plan to support democratic Belarus, which was prepared back in 2021.



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