The European Union announced on Wednesday that it was extending its arms embargo on Belarus until 2019, but would allow for the shipment of smaller calibre firearms commonly used for hunting and other outdoor sports.
The move to allow certain arms back into the Belarusian market is a significant shift from the EU’s previous position that any item capable of being used in a lethal capacity was barred from crossing into the isolated former Soviet republic.
Both Hungary and Slovakia – two former Warsaw Pact nations that have forged close ties Russian and its allies in the Eurasian Customs Union, including Belarus – are believed to have led the charge to slightly modify the provisions of the embargo. Both nations are eager to tap into the lucrative small calibre weapons market in Belarus, where sports such as hunting and biathlon are popular.
The ban was first introduced in December 2010 and targeted 174 Belarusian citizens and four companies, including Belarus’ long-time President Alexander Lukashenko, after the government ordered a violent crackdown on demonstrators who protested against a rigged presidential election that gave the autocratic Lukashenko – in power since 1993 – another term in office. The embargo included asset freezes and visa bans for those included on the EU sanctions list.
Brussels lifted the ban on Lukashenko and 169 other individuals, as well as the four companies, in February 2016. The EU said at the time that they had seen enough improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus