The European Union on Thursday (25 February) formally lifted nearly all of its sanctions against Belarus, including President Alexander Lukashenko, citing improvements in the country’s human rights record.
EU foreign ministers made the decision earlier this month after Lukashenko released the last political prisoners and held presidential elections in October which Brussels said passed muster.
An EU statement said the bloc would now end the asset freeze and travel ban sanctions against 170 individuals and three entities in Belarus.
However, it would leave sanctions in place for another year against “four people listed in connection with the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, one businessman and one journalist”.
In addition, a long-standing arms embargo would also be maintained for a year, the statement said.
EU foreign ministers said earlier that the release of the political prisoners was a “long sought step” and together with the October polls, provided “an opportunity for EU-Belarus relations to develop on a more positive agenda.”
Diplomatic sources told AFP at the time that while some EU member states had reservations about dropping the sanctions, most felt it was the best option and Brussels would keep a close watch on human rights in once Soviet-ruled Belarus.
The sources noted that Lukashenko had played a key role in EU efforts to end the Ukraine crisis by hosting a series of peace talks between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and was dubbed Europe’s ‘Last Dictator’ by Washington for his crackdown on dissent.