By Samuel Rubenfeld
February 25, 2022
Russia used Belarus as a staging ground for part of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and the West has responded with sanctions, or at least plans to do so.
The U.S. on Thursday immediately announced the designation of 24 Belarusian individuals and entities due to the country’s support for, and facilitation of, the invasion. The U.K. said “decisive” sanctions were forthcoming over Minsk’s involvement in the conflict. And the European Union late Friday said there was agreement on a further package of measures covering Belarus.
“Having already sacrificed its legitimacy to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenka regime is now jeopardizing Belarus’s sovereignty by supporting Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine,” said Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine came on three fronts, including from Belarus, which borders the country from the north. Russian forces entering from Belarus quickly seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear plant and disturbed contaminated soil in the exclusion zone has led to spikes in detected radiation, Ukrainian officials said, according to media reports.
Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Thursday that his country won’t get involved in the war, according to state media outlet Belta. Lukashenka blamed Ukrainian leadership for the situation on the ground during a visit Friday to a medical facility in Minsk, Belta reported.
Lukashenka and significant sectors of the Belarusian economy have come under Western sanctions due to his suppression of dissent and declaration of victory in a 2020 election marred by fraud allegations. In the wake of the election and subsequent suppression, Belarus has become increasingly reliant on Russia for economic, political and military support, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
The U.S. sanctions on Thursday focused on the Belarusian defense and security industries; the sector is closely linked to Russia, which relies on Belarusian components for several ongoing projects, the Treasury said.
Among those sanctioned by the U.S. was LLC Synesis, a Belarusian security company whose technology was the subject of a three-part Kharon investigation last year. The U.S. also sanctioned Synesis’ chief executive and owner, Aliaksandr Shatrov, and LLC 24x7 Panoptes, a former subsidiary. Synesis was sanctioned by the EU and U.K. in late 2020, and Shatrov was designated by the EU in June 2021.
Synesis produces a video surveillance system used by Russian and Belarusian authorities, the Treasury said, including for the identification, apprehension and persecution of protestors.
In a statement on Thursday, Synesis said the U.S. “practically repeats the wording” of the EU. The company is challenging the EU listing and the first hearing should take place later this year, the statement said. Under a decree signed by Lukashenka, Belarusian national telecommunications company RUE Beltelecom took over operations of the national public security monitoring system from 24x7 Panoptes, Synesis said Friday, in a separate statement.
Another Belarusian defense-related company sanctioned by the U.S. was Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant (MZKT), a state-owned enterprise considered to be the flagship of the country’s military-industrial complex, according to the Treasury. The company sells its products globally, including vehicle chassis that are exported to Iran and Russia, the Treasury said.
MZKT was designated by the EU and U.K. in late 2020. The U.S. also sanctioned senior MZKT executives Aliaksei Ivanavich Rymasheuski and Aliaksandr Piatrovich Vetsianevich.