Written by Ginevra Bertamini
Edited by Michele Puggia
On 3 August, the European Union (EU) passed a new round of sanctions targeting individuals and entities in Belarus (European Council, 2023). These sanctions were introduced amid escalating tensions along the Polish-Belarusian border. On 1 August 2023, Poland accused Belarus of violating its airspace south of the Suwałki Gap (Haq et al., 2023). Belarusian helicopters were reportedly spotted flying over Polish territory at low altitudes, making radar detection difficult (Pikulicka-Wilczewska, 2023). This incident led to heightened military activity, with Wagner troops, in collaboration with Belarusian forces, and Polish troops rushing to their respective sides of the border (Pikulicka-Wilczewska, 2023). Additionally, on 7 August 2023, Belarus also started a military exercise, resulting in an even more tense international environment (AP News, 2023).
The Suwałki Gap is of strategic importance. This corridor is crucial for Russian and Belarusian forces, as it offers a direct route to Kaliningrad (Regnier, 2022). On the other hand, for European and NATO forces, the corridor is a vital passage to reach the Baltic States (Regnier, 2022). A potential Belarusian attack in this area could be an attempt to gain control over the Suwałki corridor.
While these events unfolded, the EU imposed additional sanctions on 38 individuals and three entities in response to ongoing human rights violations and the repression of various segments of Belarusian society under the Lukashenko regime (European Council, 2023). The sanctioned individuals include officials responsible for the torture of detainees, propagandists and members of the judiciary involved in prosecuting democratic opponents, civil society members and journalists (European Council, 2023). State-owned enterprises, including Belneftekhim, a petrochemical corporation, were also targeted for their support of the Lukashenko regime.
The EU’s restrictive measures now apply to a total of 233 individuals and 37 entities in Belarus, subjecting them to asset freezes and prohibiting EU citizens and companies from providing funds to them (European Council, 2023). Additionally, those listed face travel bans, restricting their entry or transit through EU territories. Furthermore, the EU has imposed targeted restrictive measures in response to Belarus’s involvement in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine (European Council, 2023). These measures include an export ban on aviation and space industry-related goods and technology, as well as restrictions on firearms, their parts, essential components and ammunition (European Council, 2023).
While the EU has taken these measures, Minsk has denied any airspace violation and the Wagner group has sought to intimidate NATO and Polish forces by reinforcing military strength along the border (Haq et al., 2023). These actions come amid the broader context of geopolitical tensions between Western states and Russia following the invasion of Ukraine as well as the EU’s ongoing efforts to address human rights abuses in Belarus
AP News (2023, August 7). Belarus begins military drills near its border with Poland and Lithuania as tensions heighten. https://apnews.com/article/belarus-nato-military-exercises-poland-lithuania-wagner-ec8d35c0d2f0946f0789177583f54d74
European Council (2023, August 3). Belarus: EU adopts new round of individual sanctions over continued human rights abuses and imposes further targeted measures in response to involvement in Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2023/08/03/belarus-eu-adopts-new-round-of-individual-sanctions-over-continued-human-rights-abuses-and-imposes-further-targeted-measures-in-response-to-involvement-in-russia-s-military-aggression-against-ukraine/
Haq, S. N., Pennington, J., Kennedy, N., Tarasova, D., Gretener, J. & Kesaieva, Y. (2023, August 3). Tensions high on NATO’s border with Belarus after Wagner troops move closer. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/08/02/europe/poland-belarus-wagner-nato-tensions-intl/index.html
Pikulicka-Wilczewska, A. (2023, August 2). Poland rushes troops to border, Belarus denies helicopter violation. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/lukashenko-taunts-poland-again-over-wagner-troops-near-border-2023-08-01/
Regnier, C. (2022, October 26). Is the Suwałki gap the most dangerous place on earth? European Consortium for Political Research. https://theloop.ecpr.eu/is-the-suwalki-corridor-the-most-dangerous-place-on-earth/