EU urged to sanction Lukashenko as struggle with Cyprus continues

Sviatlana TSIKHANOUSKAYA, leader of Belarus opposition [European Parliament]

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Monday (21 September) urged the EU to show courage and impose sanctions on  longtime-strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, as the bloc continues to face internal squabbles over sanctions ahead of a crucial foreign policy summit later this week.

Speaking to EU ministers before their formal talks about Belarus as they prepared work on sanctions against the Minsk regime over election rigging and a brutal crackdown on peaceful anti-government protests, Tikhanovskaya briefed them about the current situation.

“Sanctions are very important in our fight, because sanctions are part of pressure that will force the so-called authorities to start dialogue with us,” she told reporters.

“EU leaders have reasons not to push sanctions but I asked them to be more brave,” Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the election, said.

The EU has rejected the result of the 9 August vote and a senior official said the ministers would discuss whether to call for new elections, warning that matters were rapidly getting worse.

“What we’re seeing now is a clear deterioration of the situation – we have more repression, more people arrested, more forced into exile,” the official said.

Brussels is also set to hit members of Lukashenko’s regime with asset freezes and travel bans.

According to senior EU officials, the draft sanctions list contains the names of about 40 Belarusian officials.

However, a decision on the list is stuck because of opposition from Cyprus.

Nicosia, which has good relations with Lukashenko’s Russian allies, continues to block the adoption of sanctions in an attempt to force a decision on sanctions against Turkey over a  long-running maritime gas drilling dispute.

According to an EU source, at the breakfast with EU foreign ministers, Tikhanovskaya did not speak with the Cypriot foreign minister.

At the same time, Eastern European patience is running low, with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics lashing out on Twitter against the Cypriot blockage.

“It is regrettable that today we could not decide on sanctions on violations of human rights there due to ‘a hostage taking’ by a member state. Sends a wrong signal to Belarusians, our societies and the whole world,” he wrote.

Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides defended his country’s stance, insisting the EU must have a coherent response to violations of sovereignty and human rights.

“Our reaction to any kind of violation of our core basic values and principles, cannot be a la carte. It needs to be consistent,” he said.

After the meeting, the EU’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell confirmed that “the required unanimity was not achieved.”

“I don’t blame Cyprus for anything. But it is perfectly clear that we need Cyprus in order to gain unanimity,” Borrell told reporters after the meeting of EU foreign ministers, adding that he “perfectly understands the situation of Cyprus”.

“It is a high-voltage political problem the European Council will have to resolve,” Borrell said, adding that this issue will be dealt with by EU leaders at the summit later this week.

At the same time, Lukashenko announced that an ongoing military manoeuvre with Russia to deter an alleged threat from the West would be expanded.

The exercise called ‘Slavic Brotherhood’ should now last until Friday with 1,000 Russian soldiers taking part.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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