Targeted: The Lukashenka Allies And Kin Hit With Western Sanctions
By Tony Wesolowsky, RFE/RL's Belarus Service June 22, 2021
By the end of last week, Western countries had hit authoritarian Alyaksandr Lukashenka's ruling apparatus with three rounds of sanctions since he claimed victory in an August 2020 presidential vote that many Belarusians believe was blatantly rigged.
The state, however, has continued to pursue a violent crackdown on protesters and political opponents of Lukashenka, who has retained power since 1994 through ballots deemed unfree, unfair, and undemocratic by observers and Western governments.
Calls for tougher measures emerged amid outrage over the May 23 diversion of a Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight that was forced to land in Minsk and the subsequent arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a blogger who had fled Belarus in fear of politically charged prosecution last year, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen.
On June 21, the European Union, the United States, Canada, and Britain announced further sanctions seeking to rein in Lukashenka. "We are united in our deep concern regarding the [Lukashenka] regime's continuing attacks on human rights, freedoms and international law," the four said in a joint statement.
"We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus, and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments," they said.
While the move was coordinated, the lists of those hit by EU, U.S., Canadian, and British sanctions were not identical.
Among the entities targeted by the U.S. Treasury Department were the main Belarusian security service, the KGB; the Interior Ministry troops; and the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPIK), all of which have been heavily involved in the persistent crackdown.
U.S. sanctions also hit Prosecutor-General Andrey Shved, who the Treasury Department said had filed "politically motivated terrorism charges and extradition requests" against exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and Mikalay Karpyankou, the deputy interior minister who commands the ministry's troops.
Meeting in Luxembourg on June 21, EU foreign ministers voted to target key sectors of the Belarusian economy, including banking, oil, tobacco, and the very lucrative potash industry. EU leaders are expected to confirm those "sectoral sanctions" in the coming days.
The ministers officially signed off on adding 78 people and eight entities to a sanctions list, subjecting them to a visa ban -- meaning they cannot enter the EU -- and assets freezes. A total of some 166 people and 15 entities in Belarus are now under EU sanctions.
Seven of the 78, including the defense and transport ministers, were sanctioned over the forced landing of Ryanair jet en route between two EU capitals â€“ a move widely condemned as a "state hijacking" -- and the arrests of Pratasevich and Sapega.
The remaining 71 individuals -- including Russian tycoon Mikhail Gutseriyev, Lukashenka's son Dzmitry, and his eldest son's wife, Lilia, were put on the sanctions list for "benefiting from and supporting the Lukashenka regime."
RFE/RL looks at six of the bigger names on the EU's blacklist.
Gutseriyev, reported to be have long-standing ties to Lukashenka, has built a business empire -- with elements both inside and connected with Belarus -- in the energy, potash, and hospitality sectors, among others. His assets are reportedly worth at least $2 billion.
Safmar, a Russian conglomerate controlled by Gutseriyev, was the only firm that continued to supply oil to Belarusian refineries during a spat between Russia and Belarus in early 2020 sparked in large part by Lukashenka's last-minute refusal to agree to tighter ties with Russia under a 1999 agreement on a "union state."
Gutseriyev also owns Slavkali, which is building a potassium-chloride mining and processing plant near Lyuban, a central town close to a potash-salt deposit. Estimated at $2 billion, it has been called the biggest investment project in Belarus. Lukashenka has said he would give Lyuban a new name: Gutseriyev.
His other business interests in Belarus include gas stations and oil depots as well as a hotel, a business center, and an airport terminal in Minsk.
A leading Belarusian businessman with interests in an array of sectors including oil and energy, real estate, tobacco, retail, and finance, he is reportedly close to both Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his son Viktar, a target of a previous round of EU sanctions.
His company owns a property in the eastern Mahileu region that some have dubbed the presidential residence because Alyaksandr Lukashenka is said to be a frequent visitor.
Aleksin is a co-owner of the Bremino Group, which was selected by Lukashenka -- purportedly with backing from son Viktar and a raft of tax breaks and other advantages -- to develop the Bremino-Orsha special economic zone.
Aleksin and his close family control the companies Inter Tobacco and Energo-Oil, which have the exclusive right to import tobacco products to Belarus under a presidential decree.
Belarusian independent media and the EU have linked Aleksin to what is said to be the first government-backed private military company in Belarus, GardServis, which purportedly has ties to the state security apparatus.
Tsyatseryn is a tycoon who analysts say is a member of Lukashenka's inner circle. His business interests include alcoholic beverages, food products, and furniture. He also co-owns VIBEL, a company generating revenue by selling commercial spots on Belarusian state TV channels.
In 2019, Tsyatseryn's company Belglobalstart was picked to build a multifunctional business center that would be located close to the presidential headquarters in Minsk.
Like Lukashenka, Tsyatseryn portrays himself as a sports buff. He is the chairman of the Belarusian Tennis Federation and a former aide to Lukashenka on sports matters.
Tsyatseryn has been a vocal critic of Belarusian athletes who have supported the pro-democracy protests and condemned the crackdown on peaceful protesters, journalists, and human rights activists. He has publicly demanded that those athletes speaking out against the state return any money it invested in them.
Zaitsau, is a former assistant to Viktar Lukashenka, 45, Alyaksandr Lukashenka's eldest son and his former national-security adviser. Now in business, his Sohra Group has exclusive license to export state-run companies' products, such as tractors and trucks, to Persian Gulf and African countries. Along with Aleksin, Zaitsau is also co-owner of the Bremino Group.
The wife of Viktar Lukashenka, Lilia Lukashenka is largely out of the limelight but has been linked to a number of prominent companies including Dana Holdings/Dana Astra, the Belkhudozhpromysly concern, and Eastleigh Trading Ltd.
Dana Astra is building Minsk World, a $3.5 billion residential and commercial complex in the capital. Dana Astra is the main subsidiary of Dana Holdings, a company owned by the Karics, a Serbian family that has ties to Lukashenka and has catapulted to the top of the Belarusian property industry in recent years.
The second of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's three sons, Dzmitry, 41, is a businessman and chairman of the President's Sports Club since 2005.
"Through this entity, he conducts business and controls a number of enterprises. He was present on Alyaksandr Lukashenka's secret inauguration in September 2020. He is therefore benefiting from and supporting the Lukashenka regime," the EU said in announcing the raft of sanctions.
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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