EU approves Belarus sanctions, debates Turkey crisis

A woman embraces a member of Belarusian Interior Ministry troops during a rally in support of the Belarusian opposition, against police brutality and the results of the Belarusian presidential election in Minsk, Belarus. [Yauhen Yerchak/EPA]

EU foreign affairs ministers agreed on Friday (14 August) to draw up a list of targets in Belarus for a new round of sanctions in response to strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s post-election crackdown.

At a videoconference hosted by Brussels’ diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, the foreign ministers also agreed to take up the stand-off between Greece and Turkey at their next face-to-face talks.

As Lukashenko’s main opposition challenger called for mass weekend rallies to denounce the long-standing leader’s disputed claim of re-election, his western neighbours are stepping up the pressure.

“The foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on those responsible for the repression and a list of names will be drawn up,” one European official said.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a tweet that the “EU will now initiate a process of sanctions against those responsible for the violence, arrests and fraud in connection with the election.”

Once the list is finalised, each individual or entity on it will have to be approved unanimously by member states, but officials said none of the 27 raised objections to the idea of sanctions

Ahead of the meeting, there had been calls for action from several EU members, especially Belarus’ neighbours Poland and Lithuania, which is now hosting exiled opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania say they are ready to act as mediators to try to resolve the post-election crisis, after a poll that Brussels has already said was “neither free nor fair”.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has spoken to Tikhanovskaya and, according to his spokesman, she is ready to help him implement a plan for “peaceful dialogue” to resolve the crisis.

Lithuania also on Friday offered to treat Belarusians injured during the protests and suggested setting up the EU fund to support “the victims of repression”.

Tens of thousands rally in Belarus against post-vote crackdown

Tens of thousands of Belarusians staged a wave of peaceful protests on Thursday (13 August) against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election and an ensuing brutal police crackdown.

Call for new vote

Poland announced €11 million in funding to help Belarusians get visas and finance their settlement in Poland, as well as support for independent media and non-governmental organisations in Belarus.

“We cannot put on a mask of indifference or neutrality at times like this,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told parliament.

Later, Morawieki’s office tweeted: “We call on the Belarusian authorities to consider holding new, free elections. They must be fair, with observers from other countries.”

Russia has implicitly criticised the EU response, denouncing what its foreign ministry spokeswoman called “clear attempts at outside interference… aimed at causing a split in society and destabilising the situation”.

But Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a call on Friday with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis that Minsk is ready “for a constructive and objective dialogue with foreign partners”.

Mediterranean tensions

The soaring tensions in the eastern Mediterranean were also high on the agenda after France dispatched naval vessels and jet fighters to back up Greece and Cyprus.

Longstanding tension between Turkey and EU member state Greece escalated when Ankara resumed energy exploration in the region off the Greek island of Kastellorizo on Monday (10 August).

Turkey has dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by naval vessels, prompting Greece to send its own ships to the area to monitor Turkey’s work.

Brussels was keen to show a united front at Friday’s talks, but members will be cautious in dealing with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU chief Charles Michel on Thursday and hit out at France’s President Emmanuel Macron, accusing him of “putting on a show”.

A European official told AFP that Merkel had warned Erdogan in July that Turkey would face EU sanctions if it drills in Cypriot waters or off the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

On Thursday, Michel underlined EU solidarity with member states Greece and Cyprus and urged Erdogan to “de-escalate tensions and avoid provocations”.

Belarus, Turkey on agenda as Macron and Merkel meet

French President Emmanuel Macron will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel next week at his Mediterranean holiday retreat to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, the post-election protests in Belarus and growing tensions with Turkey, the presidency said Friday (14 August).

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