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EU greenlights new Belarus sanctions

August 14, 2020

EU foreign ministers have agreed to prepare a list of Belarusian officials to be hit with sanctions following the post-election crackdown on demonstrators. Germany has thrown its weight behind the move.

A man holds a picture of the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko reading "Go away!" during a protest rally against police violence
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Leskiec

The European Union is set to impose new sanctions targeting Belarusian officials responsible for the brutal crackdown in the ex-Soviet state, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters after video talks held by EU foreign ministers.

The targets and scope of the measures are yet to be determined, an EU official said, adding that "a list of names will be drawn up" by the foreign policy unit. Once the list is finalized, the EU nations would need to unanimously approve each individual or organization on it before sanctions can go into effect.

Read more: Opposition leader: 'This freedom can't be broken'

The EU would "now initiate a process of sanctions against those responsible for the violence, arrests and fraud in connection with the election," Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Twitter.

Urgent EU talks

The top diplomats from the bloc's 27 member states met Friday to review former restrictions against Belarus' leadership that the EU removed in 2016.

The sanctions, removed after the EU cited progress in improving the rule of law, had targeted arms companies, frozen assets and implemented travel bans.

The video talks were called after Sunday's controversial election win for strongman Alexander Lukashenko and days of violence against anti-government protesters, which Maas slammed as "completely unacceptable." 

"We aim to put certain persons who are known and took part in crimes against peaceful protests under the EU sanctions regime," he said.

While Austria, Sweden and Germany have urged a more robust sanctions package, Hungary is believed to be the leading skeptic. The Czech Republic, Denmark and the Baltic states have also called for mediation between Lukashenko and the opposition. Lithuania has offered to provide medical help to the victims of the crackdown, which is believed to have left hundreds injured.

Merkel 'shocked' by Belarus crackdown

Maas' comments on sanctions echoed those made by a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the talks. Earlier Friday, Steffen Seibert said the chancellor had been "shocked" by the detention and abuse of peaceful protesters. 

"In our view sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations will have to be discussed," Seibert told reporters. 

Read more: Maidan veterans see echoes of Ukraine uprising in Belarus

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that additional sanctions were needed against "those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus."

Deadly post-election protests

Anti-government protests have seen at least 6,700 people arrested, dozens injured and two killed since they began on Sunday evening. On Friday, authorities began releasing detainees, bowing to EU pressure.

The demonstrations were sparked by the reelection of Lukashenko for his sixth term in office with 80% of the vote. He has held the presidential position since the role was created in 1994.

His opponents have claimed that the result was rigged. The EU criticized the vote as "neither free nor fair."

Lukashenko's days 'numbered'

Joerg Forbrig, the director for Central and Eastern Europe for the German Marshall Fund think tank, told DW that he expects the "end is nigh" for Lukashenko. 

"We see strikes and a mass movement that has one central demand: for him to go," Forbrig said, adding that the important thing to watch is whether the transition away from Lukashenko will be peaceful. 

Although Forbrig said he doesn't expect Lukashenko to be in power long enough for sanctions to have a direct effect on him, they nevertheless would serve as an important sign of solidarity with the Belarusian people from the EU.

"These are European values that are being trampled by the regime in a neighboring country," he added. 

Read more: Optimism for Belarus 'is now gone' — Norway's top diplomat

This is an updated version of a previous article

dj, kmm/mm (AFP, Reuters)

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