EU Belarus policy stumbled as unanimity on sanctions was not reached

European Union efforts to put pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko are on hold, as a separate crisis in the bloc’s backyard lays bare its struggles to reconcile competing national interests, Bloomberg reported.

Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday failed to make good on their promise to sanction dozens of Belarusian officials involved in a contested election and the violent suppression of protests because of disagreements over how to deal with Turkey’s claims in the eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus refused to sign off on measures against Belarus unless member states also agreed to impose asset freezes on Turkish companies involved in drilling activities in its waters, and the matter will now be taken up by the bloc’s leaders when they meet at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

“Our credibility is at stake,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels after the meeting. “Although there is a clear will to adopt the sanctions, the required unanimity was not reached,” the EU’s top diplomat, who chaired the meeting of foreign ministers, said, referring to EU rules that all 27 states must agree. Approval is still possible by EU leaders at a summit on Thursday and Borrell said that by the next time foreign ministers meet on 12 October, the sanctions would be agreed.

The presidents of Lithuania, Poland and Romania said on Monday they will ask EU leaders at this week’s summit to offer an economic support package for Belarus if it holds a democratic election. That would include a favourable trade regime with the EU, visa-free travel and support as a candidate for the World Trade Organization.

Belarus opposition leader Sveatlana Tsikhanouskaya travelled to Brussels on Monday to try to convince the EU to follow through on a sanctions threat it announced last month. In her address to Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Subcommittee on Human Rights, she reiterated firmly that the ongoing Belarusian uprising is not a “geopolitical revolution (...) it is neither pro-Russian nor anti-Russian, not pro-EU nor anti-EU, (...) it is simply pro-Belarus and a democratic revolution”. “Our fight is a fight for freedom, for democracy and for human dignity. It is exclusively peaceful and non-violent. We demand only three basic things: the release of all political prisoners, an end to police violence and to conduct new, free and fair elections”, she said.

European Parliament President David Sassoli also held a bilateral meeting with Tsikhanouskaya on Monday (pictured).

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