Lukashenko’s “tricks” to bypass the Western sanctions – analysis

If Belarus decides to send troops into Ukraine, the EU threatens Belarus with additional sanctions. As the pressure from the sanctions grows, more public and private players are seeking ways to get around them.

The head of Belarus’ State Customs Committee, Vladimir Orlovsky, stated that finding novel solutions is now crucial because adopting tried-and-true methods won’t be possible in the future. The statement was made in reference to Belarus’ attempt to develop new supply chains after Western sanctions and the Ukraine war shut down many of its existing trading lines.

Just two days before Orlovsky’s remarks, the Citadele bank of Latvia reported that businesses are attempting to bypass sanctions by importing or exporting sanctioned items to or from Russia and Belarus via third nations like Kazakhstan, Serbia, or even Bulgaria.

According to IntelliNews, this is related to Belarus’ hunt for new trade channels, in which it frequently praises the collaboration in commerce, logistics, and transportation with nations like China, Mongolia, or various post-Soviet republics. These nations don’t provide a sizable enough market for Belarus to assist close the gap in its typical exports, but they can serve as middlemen in the import or export of items that are subject to sanctions.

Belarus has also evolved into a type of “third nation” for Russian customers this year as travel there has become a means for Russians to escape some of the unfavorable consequences of Western sanctions. This year, Belarus travel bookings from Russia have increased significantly, according to Russian tour operators. Russians can shop “sanctions-free” there, purchasing Western goods like Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Zara, and Massimo Dutti. Opening a bank a

The Belarusian company Interservis used a trading strategy to export Russian petroleum products to the EU while evading Belarus and Russia’s joint Customs Union taxes by reclassifying them as “solvents” or “thinners.” Minsk has been utilizing various methods in its commerce with EU nations for some time. Investigative journalists learned that Belarus had been exporting banned oil goods to Estonia under a new customs regulation in February of this year, and they uncovered a similar operation.

The export of items to Belarus that could be used to make tobacco products was prohibited by the EU in July 2021. The Inter Tobako facility and the more expensive Neman Grodno Tobacco Factory in Belarus both faced sanctions from the EU in June of this year.

The State Border Committee of Belarus received special instructions from the regime’s top officials not to intervene with smuggling operations along Belarus’ borders with Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania, Ukrainian intelligence services claimed in July. Ukrainian intelligence linked this choice to Minsk’s desire to boost tax collections as a result of the severe decline in exports brought on by Western sanctions.

The Minsk dictatorship has long played hide-and-seek with contraband cigarettes with its EU neighbors, particularly Lithuania. This got worse in 2021, probably because people were afraid that new sanctions would stop conventional shipments like they did this year. 328 million illegal cigarettes from Belarus were intercepted by Lithuanian customs during the first three quarters of 2021, up from 297 million during the same period in 2020. Smuggled cigarettes are transported in freight wagons or trucks together with everything from limestone and claydite to water filter supplies and fertilizers.

70% of cigarettes sold in Belarus were produced at the Neman factory in Grodno, which has a history of involvement in cigarette smuggling operations. It’s also thought that Lukashenko’s family and his close acquaintances are involved in the cigarette smuggling trade in Belarus.

According to Lithuanian customs, approximately 1.6 million packages of illegal cigarettes from Belarus were intercepted by Lithuanian border guards between January and March of this year, representing an almost quadrupling of smuggled cigarettes year over year. Lithuanian customs officials assert that the smugglers are increasingly utilizing both waterways and drones to bring the cigarettes into the EU as the railway transit has essentially come to an end.

As attempts to evade Western sanctions mounted, Lithuania already tightened its border procedures in August. Over 3,000 import, export, and transit shipments were halted by Lithuanian customs between March and August, and over 1,200 vehicles with registrations in Belarus and Russia were denied entry into the EU.

This summer, Latvia tightened its regulations for importing cigarettes and fuel from Belarus to deter Latvians from visiting Belarus. Belarus has been pleased with itself this year for granting Lithuanian, Latvian, and Polish nationals access to its territory without a visa. However, Latvian authorities are worried that their nationals are being targeted by Belarusian security services in addition to the possibility that this could increase sales of petrol and cigarettes.

The Belarusian company Interservis used a trading strategy to export Russian petroleum products to the EU while evading Belarus and Russia’s joint Customs Union taxes by reclassifying them as “solvents” or “thinners.” Minsk has been utilizing various methods in its commerce with EU nations for some time. Investigative journalists learned that Belarus had been exporting banned oil goods to Estonia under a new customs regulation in February of this year, and they uncovered a similar operation.

The export of items to Belarus that could be used to make tobacco products was prohibited by the EU in July 2021. The Inter Tobako facility and the more expensive Neman Grodno Tobacco Factory in Belarus both faced sanctions from the EU in June of this year.

The State Border Committee of Belarus received special instructions from the regime’s top officials not to intervene with smuggling operations along Belarus’ borders with Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania, Ukrainian intelligence services claimed in July. Ukrainian intelligence linked this choice to Minsk’s desire to boost tax collections as a result of the severe decline in exports brought on by Western sanctions.

The Minsk dictatorship has long played hide-and-seek with contraband cigarettes with its EU neighbors, particularly Lithuania. This got worse in 2021, probably because people were afraid that new sanctions would stop conventional shipments like they did this year. 328 million illegal cigarettes from Belarus were intercepted by Lithuanian customs during the first three quarters of 2021, up from 297 million during the same period in 2020. Smuggled cigarettes are transported in freight wagons or trucks together with everything from limestone and claydite to water filter supplies and fertilizers.

70% of cigarettes sold in Belarus were produced at the Neman factory in Grodno, which has a history of involvement in cigarette smuggling operations. It’s also thought that Lukashenko’s family and his close acquaintances are involved in the cigarette smuggling trade in Belarus.

According to Lithuanian customs, approximately 1.6 million packages of illegal cigarettes from Belarus were intercepted by Lithuanian border guards between January and March of this year, representing an almost quadrupling of smuggled cigarettes year over year. Lithuanian customs officials assert that the smugglers are increasingly utilizing both waterways and drones to bring the cigarettes into the EU as the railway transit has essentially come to an end.

As attempts to evade Western sanctions mounted, Lithuania already tightened its border procedures in August. Over 3,000 import, export, and transit shipments were halted by Lithuanian customs between March and August, and over 1,200 vehicles with registrations in Belarus and Russia were denied entry into the EU.

This summer, Latvia tightened its regulations for importing cigarettes and fuel from Belarus to deter Latvians from visiting Belarus. Belarus has been pleased with itself this year for granting Lithuanian, Latvian, and Polish nationals access to its territory without a visa. However, Latvian authorities are worried that their nationals are being targeted by Belarusian security services in addition to the possibility that this could increase sales of petrol and cigarettes.

Photo: A cigarette bust made by Lithuanian border guards from a Belarusian freight wagon exporting potash fertilisers. / Lithuanian State Border Guard Service

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