EU Strengthens Belarusian Sanctions

August 7, 2023
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Financial institutions operating in the EU will need to update their sanctions compliance again, as the Council of the European Union approves wide-ranging sanctions against Russian ally Belarus.

Financial institutions operating in the EU will need to update their sanctions compliance again, as the Council of the European Union approves wide-ranging sanctions against Russian ally Belarus.

The Council of the EU has today imposed sanctions on an additional 38 individuals and three entities in Belarus.

It has also extended export bans to firearms, aviation and space industry.

“We have adopted new sanctions in reaction to the Lukashenko’s illegitimate regime's continued systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and brutal repression against all segments of the Belarusian society,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

“Today we are also taking further measures against the Belarusian regime as an accomplice in Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. We stand by the Belarusian people in their quest for peace and democracy.”

These restrictive measures have been fast-tracked by representatives of the Council in view of the urgent fight against circumvention regarding certain highly sensitive goods and technologies.

According to the Council, those sanctioned are responsible for serious human rights violations, and contribute to the repression of civil society and democratic forces in the country. They also benefit from and support the Lukashenko regime, which has been Russia’s key backer since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine.

The new sanctions listings include penitentiary officials responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, as well as members of the judicial branch involved in prosecuting and sentencing democratic opponents, members of civil society and journalists. Prominent propagandists for the regime have also been targeted

The Council has also added state-owned enterprises that have taken measures against employees or dismissed them for participating in peaceful protests and strikes.

Belneftekhim, a state-controlled oil and chemical conglomerate, is listed as one of the strategic companies supporting the Lukashenko regime.

In a statement, the European Commission said that it welcomed the adoption of the sanctions by the Council.

"In particular, the new measures create a closer alignment of EU sanctions targeting Russia and Belarus, and will help to ensure that Russian sanctions cannot be circumvented through Belarus."

Circumvention has become a priority for the EU in its approach to Russia sanctions.

For example, the round of sanctions proposed by the European Commission in May targeted third party countries who are enabling Russian goods and services to get around the regime.

The Commission also unveiled David O’Sullivan, the EU’s former ambassador to the US, as its sanctions envoy.

In 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to the highest number of regulatory events ever recorded by VIXIO, at 243 in March 2022 alone.

Firms, including those in the EU, were forced to act at short notice to remain compliant with rules. This continued to change and become more restrictive throughout 2022, resulting in heavier workloads for compliance teams.

Although firms have had to act fast, regulators such as the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority have at times been critical.

During a webinar last month, the FCA’s Andrew Wigston called out payments and e-money firms for having a “reactive approach” to sanctions, noting that they do not appear to be on top of rule changes and highlighted reporting issues.

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