Moves to lift EU sanctions on Belarusian fertiliser exports, seen as a cash cow for the Minsk regime, are seeing backlash from the Baltic states and Poland.
Member states have been locked in a stand-off since January over new sanctions against Belarus. Negotiators do not agree on exemptions that would facilitate the transit of Belarusian fertilisers through the European Union.
"For three months now, we have been very strongly opposed to the proposed deregulation of fertilisers because we believe it weakens the sanctions package and does not solve the problem, but only allows the Belarusian regime to finance its activities," Lithuanian Ambassador to the EU Arnoldas Pranckevičius told LRT TV.
Western European countries, notably Portugal, take the position that Belarusian fertiliser exports are necessary to combat food shortages in the third world, but the Baltic countries and Poland say this is not true.
"We propose to address the problems through trade policy, by trying to find alternative sources, by investing in production potential in Africa itself and other countries, by fundamentally reviewing supply chains," says Pranckevičius.
The issue in the European Commission is particularly complex.
"I don't want to lose patience, but you know that we do not comment on the negotiations on sanctions packages. Never," replied Eric Mamer, a spokesperson for the European Commission.
Officials say that the United Nations support the proposals to ease sanctions. Russia is also trying to defend its interests and those of Belarus. Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, is threatening to restrict exports of Ukrainian grain unless transit is eased.
Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and now a liberal MEP, told LRT that sanctions should be strengthened, not weakened.
"Ukraine must win this war. We need to strengthen sanctions against Belarus and Russia. We need to extend the lists of sanctioned persons," the MEP said.
He warns that Russia and Belarus are not only taking advantage of the exemptions from sanctions, but also of the EU's sluggishness.
"I think sanctions only have an impact if they are introduced suddenly and on a large scale, rather than in small packages that give Putin time and space to adjust," Verhofstadt adds.
The new package of sanctions against Belarus, which was supposed to bring Russia and Belarus on an equal footing, remains pending.
The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as Poland, see concessions on Belarusian transit as a red line.