(Bloomberg) -- European Union foreign ministers moved toward enforcing harsher sanctions against Belarus and pointed a finger at Russia’s ties to its ally after the forcing down of a commercial airliner and arrest a journalist.
Diplomacy chiefs discussed in Lisbon how to implement measures against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko after the diversion of a Ryanair Holdings Plc flight crossing Belarusian airspace en route from Greece to Lithuania.
The EU is working on new sanctions that could target potash, a soil nutrient that’s one of the country’s biggest export, after the Ryanair incident. Leaders earlier this week asked ministers to come up with broader measures to target businesses and entire sectors of the country’s economy, including the financial industry.
Shifting the focus from the immediate aftermath of the incident, diplomats also increasingly focused on Russia’s relationship with its fellow former Soviet neighbor.
“Everyone knows that without Russia and without Russian support Lukashenko wouldn’t have any future in Belarus,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on arrival at the Thursday gathering. “That’s why it’s important to remain in talks with Russia but also with the clear expectation we have of Belarus and that we are making clear with the sanctions.”
Maas said the EU won’t be satisfied with “small sanctions steps” and will target “economic structures and payments traffic” in Belarus and make sure they have a substantial effect. Sectoral sanctions should be in place by June 21 when foreign ministers meet again, Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn said.
Belarus’s bonds sold off for the fourth straight day, taking the yield on the country’s 6.378% dollar notes due 2031 to 7.88%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s roughly 20 basis points away from a high reached in August, when investors were spooked by a crackdown on protesters against Lukashenko’s claim to a landslide election victory.
Several ministers expressed concern at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s backing for Lukashenko, who he’ll meet on Friday in Sochi, Russia.
“The EU should address the root causes of these conflicts, Russia is behind these conflicts, Russia is using these conflicts to create its own sphere of influence,” said Romania’s Bogdan Aurescu.
The foreign ministers won’t make a decision on sanctions Thursday as theirs is an informal meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, adding that preparations for sanctions against individuals are at a very advanced stage at the technical level.
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