Poland / Belarus – Making good on its threats after the Minsk Supreme Court upheld the eight-year prison sentence handed down to Andrzej Poczobut, an active member of the Polish minority in Belarus, Poland has announced that it will suspend all road freight traffic from Belarus for vehicles registered in that country or in Russia from June 1.
As we wrote on March 8 about the repression of the Polish minority by Belarus, Poczobut was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony for inciting hatred, calling for sanctions against Belarus, acting to Belarus’ detriment, and rehabilitating Nazism, notably for publicly describing the invasion of eastern Poland by the Red Army launched on September 17, 1939, when the Nazi invasion from the west had been going on for 17 days, as an act of aggression. In Belarus as in Russia, it is a punishable offence to refer to the German-Soviet alliance of 1939-41 in terms that run counter to the historiography inherited from the Soviet era.
Warsaw then reacted by closing one border crossing, Bobrowniki, for the transport of goods, and it threatened to close all crossing points, while leaving the door open for a more favourable reconsideration if Poczobut was released.
At the end of March, the Belarusian leader stated that he was ready to release Andrzej Poczobut, but only on the condition that Poland hand over the opposition figure Pavel Latushka – a former Minister of Culture and ambassador – as well as all the members of National Anti-Crisis Management, a sort of alternative government-in-exile that he chairs.
Following confirmation by the Belarusian Supreme Court of Belarusian Pole Andrzej Poczobut’s conviction, on May 29 the Polish interior ministry also announced that 365 Belarusian citizens, including 159 members of parliament, 76 judges, 7 prosecutors, 32 local government officials, and 28 members of law enforcement agencies, as well as representatives of the Belarusian media, athletes, and representatives of state-owned companies, had been added to the register of persons banned from entering the Schengen area. The Polish sanctions also target 20 companies.
According to the Polish government, the list of new sanctions includes people allegedly involved in the assault operation involving illegal migrants who were sent to the Polish borders that was launched by Minsk in 2021 in response to the tough European sanctions adopted in May of that year (including a ban on all access to European airspace for Belarus’ airline). These sanctions were in response to the Belarusian authorities’ hijacking of a Ryanair plane that was flying over the country while on its way from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania. They came on top of the mostly symbolic sanctions that were adopted after the Belarusian presidential election in summer of 2020, which was deemed rigged by the opposition.