Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

EU ambassadors quit Minsk in tit-for-tat move

  • Ashton and Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski - Warsaw is a key proponent of Belarus sanctions (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU has recalled all its ambassadors from Belarus in a tit-for-tat dispute over sanctions.

Foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton after meeting her EU crisis group, the Political and Security Committee on Tuesday afternoon, said in a statement that the move is "an expression of solidarity and unity."

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The discussion overame the objections of some member states - one large EU country had earlier told EUobserver it would not take part in the pull-out.

The move is a reaction to Minsk's decision, earlier the same day, to give marching orders to the EU ambassador and the Polish ambassador.

For its part, the Belarusian foreign ministry said it will "close entry to Belarus to those of the European Union which contributed to the introduction of restrictive measures."

The EU this week added 21 jursists and policemen to an existing list of over 200 officials under a visa ban and asset freeze. There is also talk that oligarch Yuriy Chizh - President Alexander Lukashenko's ice hockey buddy and bag-man - will join them next month.

The EU reaction is quite a rare one - in 2009 it recalled ambassadors from Iran to protest the detention of a British embassy worker, but most of its envoys are still in Damascus despite the regime's alleged crimes against humanity.

A Minsk-based ambassador from one EU country told this website the EU and Polish expulsion had been forewarned.

"This is what they promised to do earlier ... The same thing happened in 2008 with the US ambassador," he noted.

Meanwhile, EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele told press in the EU capital that the whole affair is a distraction from the real issue - how to get Belarus to free political prisoners.

This story was updated on 29 February to add new information on the EU pull-out

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The EU is to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on another 15-or-so Belarusian officials. But harsher measures, such as economic sanctions or blocking the 2014 hockey finals in Minsk, are not on the table for now.

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