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EU eyes Belarus sanctions for acting as Russian invasion launchpad

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The EU wants to ready sanctions against Belarus, alongside Russia, for serving as a launchpad for part of Moscow's assault on Ukraine, according to a draft text for a summit to be held Thursday.

The document, seen by AFP and outlining conclusions for approval by the leaders of the EU's 27 countries, “calls for the swift preparation of a further sanctions package that will also cover Belarus”.

The main thrust of it, though, is on agreeing “further restrictive measures that will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action” in attacking and invading Ukraine.

Belarus, a Russian ally that lies along Ukraine's northern border and is close to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, has hosted tens of thousands of Russian troops, which have used it as a staging ground for their assault. They have driven over the border and used positions to fire artillery.

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European Council President Charles Michel, speaking at NATO's headquarters on Thursday, urged Belarus to “not take part” in Russia's military attack on Ukraine.

Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko said after a meeting of his military brass that his armed forces were not participating. But Ukraine has stressed that Russia is attacking it with Belarus's connivance.

“We have also seen that the attack is also coming from Belarus, so we have clear implication... from Belarus, or at least from Belarus territory. So that will be also an important factor in the discussion” at the summit, an EU official said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, also speaking at NATO, outlined the sanctions prepared against Russia that will be presented at the summit.

She said they include “financial sanctions that harshly limit Russia's access to the capital markets” with the aim of hobbling economic growth, making borrowing more costly, raising inflation, intensifying capital outflows and “gradually erode its industrial base”.

They will also aim at “limiting Russia's access to crucial technology... from which the elite makes most of their money”. That would include prohibiting selling high-tech components and top-end software to “seriously degrade the Russian economy in all areas in the future,” she said.

The EU leaders were expected to discuss other options. One of those is to kick Russia out of the SWIFT network that the world's banks use to securely send messages and carry out transactions.

The EU official briefing journalists said “we will see what the leaders think about that subject” but suggested it would more likely be held in reserve for a future round of sanctions, should the EU need to escalate its punishment.

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