20 January 2018, Saturday, 16:00

Three firms of oligarch Chizh are key to release of political prisoners


The European Union can easily achieve the release of Belarusian political prisoners.

It just needs to add the key companies financing the regime to the list of economic entities subject to sanctions. The matter is Triple-Energo, Neonaft and Belneftegaz owned by oligarch Yuri Czizh. Sanctions against these companies, which were put on the EU blacklist in 2012, were lifted.

The topic was discussed at a meeting of the Working Group “Influence of Economic Situation in Belarus on Human Rights” held in Warsaw as part of the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. The event was attended by Belarusian and Russian human rights defenders, opposition activists, economists and politologists. Representatives of the Working Group on Investments of the Committee on International Control over the Human Rights Situation in Belarus Yuri Dzhibladze and Olga Zakharova and famous Belarusian scientist and economist Leanid Zlotnikau presented their reports.

Most participants agreed that the Belarusian regime had serious problems, mainly economical ones. Leanid Zlotnikau compared the country's GDP growth and wages and drew parallels with the 2011 crisis.

Olga Zakharova noted that the Kremlin wouldn't give money to Lukashenka for empty promises. She thinks the EU has an influential instrument to press on the Belarusian regime. She reminded that targeted economic sanctions led to the release of some political prisoners jailed after the 2010 presidential election.

“Three Belarusian businessmen – Vladimir Peftiyev, Yuri Chizh and Anatoly Ternavsky – are on the blacklist of the European Union. Three main companies exporting oil products were not put on the list. It is Yuri Chizh's firms that played the leading role in the “solvents and thinners” scheme. If we look where the products were exported to, we see that the most part was sold to Latvia. It is Latvia and Slovenia that lobbied for lifting the EU sanctions from these companies. According to various estimates, it gave Lukashenka from 2 to 3 billion dollars. Moreover, the regime received more than 8 billion dollars last year from active trade with the EU.

We cannot say that sanctions do not work. In this situation, they can be compared with a pill that was put near a glass of water but never taken,” Olga Zakharova said.

Yuri Dzhibladze said the human rights situation in Belarus didn't improve.

”None of requirements of the international community contained in the resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council and reports by the OSCE and the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus were fulfilled. Minsk, in fact, ignores them. The authorities do not cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, don't allow him to visit the county and refuse to recognize his mandate.

It's obvious that the regime ignores the resolutions and statements by international organisations. We are convinced that in this situation, taking into account the peculiarities of the Lukashenka regime, the only effective tool to make him stop repression, release political prisoners and start system changes in the country is an economic tool,” he said.

Yuri Dzhibladze notes the Belarusian regime bypasses sanctions because the above-mentioned oil traders are not subject to economic restrictions. He says what measures could help release and rehabilitate political prisoners.

“In our opinion, at least one simple and obvious thing must be done – make the current sanctions effective. It means the loophole that we have due to lobbyists from Latvia and Slovenia must be closed. Three particular oil traders belonging to Yuri Chizh must be returned to the blacklist. We also need a clear threat of expanding sanctions, adding to the blacklist a number of companies supporting the regime and oligarchs who are close to the regime and provide resources to it," Dzhibladze said.