EU Leaders Agree to Adopt Sanctions on Belarus Officials
02 Oct 2020

The European Union reached an early morning deal Friday to advance a sanctions package on Belarus in coming days after Cyprus and Greece won the bloc’s backing on a statement demanding an end to Turkish drilling in what they claim as their waters, leaders said.

The Belarus sanctions, which will target around 40 people allegedly responsible for repressing protests and for election fraud, were originally promised in August but were held up by a Cypriot demand that the EU toughen its response to Turkey’s energy work off its coast.

For now, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko won’t be included in the sanctions though he remains a possible target of a travel ban and asset freeze. The leaders called on the EU to formally approve the sanctions “without delay.” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters after the meeting that could happen later Friday.

The U.K. and Canada on Tuesday imposed sanctions on Mr. Lukashenko and seven senior figures in his government, a sign of widening discontent in the West over ongoing repression of peaceful protests against his purported victory in a disputed election.

Western officials have accused Mr. Lukashenko and his allies of multiple human rights violations in detaining and allegedly torturing protesters following the Aug. 9 poll, which Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents and Western governments say was rigged in his favor to extend his more than a quarter-century in power.

The EU has called for a rerun of the presidential elections with international supervision. It has warned it could add additional sanctions if Mr. Lukashenko refuses to enter dialogue with the opposition.

While the Belarus sanctions had broad support, the bloc has been deeply split over how to respond to Turkey’s increasingly frequent flexing of military muscle in the region, including its unilateral moves to explore and drill for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey says it has the right to seek energy resources in the region.

The leaders spent eight hours Thursday arguing over draft texts on Turkey, including whether to green-light any sanctions on Turkish people or entities.

Germany and EU officials have been arguing that the bloc needed space to rebuild trust with Ankara. France, Greece and Cyprus have been urging the bloc to exert more pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the end, the call to give priority to diplomatic efforts won out. The leaders settled on a statement which called on Turkey to refrain “from unilateral actions which run counter to EU interests” but steered clear of any immediate action in response.

The leaders said they would discuss ties with Turkey in December and if Ankara didn’t show any willingness to improve ties, sanctions would be imposed.

“In case of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law, the EU will use all the instruments and the options at its disposal…in order to defend its interests and those of its member states,” they said in a statement.

By Laurence Norman, The Wall Street Journal, 1 October 2020

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