Minsk international airport: some people from the former Soviet Union have ways to get around a visa ban (Photo: El Bingle )
ANDREW RETTMAN AND MARYNA RAKHLEI
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The EU is to slap a new visa ban on the two adult sons of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko - Viktor and Dmitry - as well as 115 other people involved in the recent crackdown on opposition. The fresh names are to join an old list, bringing the total to 158.
EUobserver has learned that Viktor Lukashenko, a presidential aid on defence matters and a member of the country's security council, is to be branded persona non grata in the EU following the crackdown on opposition after rigged elections on 19 December.
In what amounts to an attack on the Lukashenko family, Dmitry Lukashenko, a political nobody who runs the Presidential Sports Club, is also to be barred from entering the Union.
The 117 new names also include: Yury Zhadobin (minister of defence); Leonid Maltsev (the secretary of the security council); Vadim Zaytsev (the head of the secret police, the KGB); Vladimir Makey (Mr Lukashenko's chief foreign policy advisor); Grigory Vasilevich (the prosecutor general); and Vladimir Andreychenko (the head of the lower chamber of parliament).
The new list also comprises: the 24 heads of the regional and central election committees; 30 lawyers; and 10 journalists, dubbed "Lukashenko propagandists" by one EU diplomat.
The pre-existing register, numbering 41 names, including Mr Lukashenko himself, was suspended in 2008 but is to be re-instated.
Two top members of the nomenklatura, foreign minister Sergei Martynov and first deputy prime minister Viktor Semashko, are not on the list. An EU diplomat said Mr Martynov is not included because: "We should keep at least one channel of communication. Among the bad guys in Belarus, he's not the worst bad guy." Mr Semashko is seen by some in the EU as a potential successor to Mr Lukashenko.
The final decision is to be taken on Monday (31 January) in Brussels by EU foreign ministers, who might yet tweak the list.
The ministers will on Monday also decide what economic sanctions to pursue. The toughest option on the table is to ban trading with petroleum products company Belneftekhim and fertiliser firm Belaruskalii. The two companies account for a massive chunk of the state budget and are among the few Belarusian businesses whose main client base is not in Russia.
Another option under consideration is to block IMF, European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) aid to the impoverished country.
A senior EU official told press in Brussels on Friday that there is concern about the "unforeseeable consequences" of sanctions on European companies and on ordinary Belarusians.
The source noted that the EU has waited over a month before taking action to give Minsk a chance to free political prisoners. "We hoped the threat of these measures would have some implications for the release of those prisoners, as it hasn't happened, we're going forward," the official said.
The EU's visa ban efforts against Belarus have in the past faltered due to language problems.
Belarus has two main languages, Belarusian and Russian, both of which can be transliterated in various ways from cyrilic into the latin alphabet used in EU documents. When the EU last imposed sanctions in 2006, it had to go back and re-spell some of the names because they did not pop up in airport computers due to variant spellings.
Well-connected people from the former Soviet Union have ways of getting round travel bans.
The EU has also imposed (and suspended until March) a visa ban on 16 members of the ruling clan in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, an unrecognised entity which broke away from Moldova 20 years ago. But clan members find it easy to obtain new passports in Moldova, Russia or Ukraine, playing around with the latin transliterations of their names in the new travel documents. Vladimir Smirnov, the son of clan chief Igor Smirnov, reportedly travelled to France while on an active ban.
The 158 Belarusian names will also have their financial assets in the EU frozen. The move will be symbolic unless the EU follows-up with a forensic accounting operation to find out where the money is.