PARIS (Reuters) – The European Union must not back down from imposing sanctions on Belarus state airline Belavia after several countries in the bloc expressed doubts over the measure, Estonia’s prime minister said on Wednesday, warning that it could weaken the EU’s hand.
The EU and NATO have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as a weapon to pressure the West by sending people fleeing the Middle East to Minsk and then onto the borders of Poland and the Baltic states.
The bloc agreed last week to press ahead with more sanctions on Belarus, targeting some 30 individuals and entities including the foreign minister and Belavia.
However, EU diplomats said Germany and Italy were among EU countries arguing that Belavia’s promise to stop flying migrants from Syria and Iraq was enough for now.
“We have heard that there are doubts for some countries regarding Belavia,” Kaja Kallas told Reuters in an interview after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“I think it would be a weak signal if Belavia was left out, because it’s a state-managed company directly involved in bringing these people and opening new routes for smugglers and definitely should be sanctioned.”
Sanctions on Belavia would end leasing agreements with Irish and other EU companies, but in practice, it would be up to Belavia to return the planes to the EU, which is seen as unlikely at least in the short term.
The disagreements have held up the fifth package of sanctions, now expected early next week.
“This is a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis … to stop it Europe has to be strong because dictators only understand strength,” Kallas said.
She added that she wanted the EU to also impose more diplomatic pressure on the countries from which the migrants were coming.
(Reporting by John Irish; Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Jan Harvey)