When working out the economic sanctions, the EU must keep the Belarusian people in mind and above all out of the box think, say opposition leaders. Otherwise, the sanctions will miss their target. They think that limiting aviation is therefore not such a good idea, despite the direct financial effect.
The economic consequences now
Closing EU airspace to aircraft from Belarus has immediate financial consequences. Government leaders decided to close the airspace with immediate effect for Belavia, Belavia’s national airline. Belavia has suspended the 20 scheduled flights it serves with 17 EU Member States. The company, which was already in dire straits due to the corona crisis, will now face even more difficulties. Analysts expect the Belarusian government to step in, and with that there is a direct economic effect for those in power.
The call to European airlines to re-fly also has immediate economic consequences. Belarus has one flat fee for overland flights from 240 euros for smaller passenger aircraft to 700 euros for the A380 Superjumbo. The amounts seem small, but because Belarus is on the route for flights between Europe and Asia, the country made 85 million in 2019. Income that is now largely lost.
‘Lukashenko not afraid of sanctions’
Due to the direct economic consequences for the government, the flight ban can serve as an example for other economic punitive measures. But the EU must be careful with that, says Laurynas Jonavicius, lecturer in international relations at Vilnius University, who specializes in Belarusian economics and international relations.
“For people who fear the Lukashenko regime, the plane was actually the only way to escape the country. By cutting off that possibility, they are now trapped in Belarus.” Traveling by land to an EU Member State is very difficult because the borders are hermetically sealed.
Jonavicius expects the European Union to put Belarusian state-owned companies on the sanctions list. These companies act as the purse of the regime, companies whose profits go more or less directly to Lukashenko. “But”, he says, “unfortunately sanctions are less effective in the longer term than we sometimes think. Belarus is much more dependent on its large neighbor Russia than on the EU. Moreover, Lukashenko has nothing left to lose, he is already completely isolated. and is not afraid of sanctions. Also, the regime is so cruel that they will recover lost income from the population, so they will suffer. That is a big dilemma. “
That pressure is needed, opposition leader Tichanovskaja emphasized on Friday in The Hague in conversation with Prime Minister Rutte. The Netherlands was one of the advocates in the EU for targeted economic sanctions. But Tichanovskaya said Belarus could do what it did because no plan was ready. Belarus, she says, must remain on the agenda.
This is also emphasized by Laurynas Jonavicius, who calls on EU leaders out of the box to think, to be creative, by taking unexpected sanctions. “That is why it is important that politicians and experts who really know how the economy in Belarus runs, sit together.”
How could Belarus hijack a plane containing a journalist and activist? And what are the rules in the airspace? NOS op 3 explains: