EU countries agree sanctions on Belarus to plug 'biggest loophole' in Russian measures

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Julia Payne

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries agreed a sanctions package against Belarus on Wednesday, EU diplomats and Belgium said, to try to close off a route to avoiding restrictions on Russia.

The EU adopted this week its 14th package of sanctions to punish Russia for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which included clauses that increased responsibility on EU companies exporting via non-EU countries.

"This package will strengthen our measures in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including combating circumvention of sanctions," Belgium, which holds the EU presidency until the end of June, said on X.

“With this package, we just closed the biggest loophole of our sanctions regime," the EU presidency said in a separate statement.

Efforts to close loopholes have intensified since last year and diplomats say Belarus amounted to one of the biggest.

The EU has been working since January last year to align sanctions already imposed on Belarus before Russia's invasion of Ukraine with measures in response to the war, but the country's major potash exports were one of the stumbling blocks.

One diplomat specified the text aligns measures on dual-use goods such as chips found in basic appliances as well as advanced technology and military wares.

The package dropped a provision some countries sought that would have allowed Belarusian potash and other agricultural goods to be exported via Europe in the event of price spikes.

(Reporting by Julia Payne; editing by Barbara Lewis)