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19th Sep 2020

EU leaders to warn Russia against Belarus interference

  • EU leaders' videoconferences have become a standard practice during the corona crisis - now they will focus on Belarus (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU leaders will hold a special online summit on Wednesday (19 August) backing Belarusian protesters and telling Russia not to interfere, top EU officials said on Monday.

European Council president Charles Michel called for the extraordinary video summit as mass protests continued in Belarus against long-time president Alexander Lukashenko, who claimed a landslide victory in an election on 9 August, which the opposition says was rigged.

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Lukashenko's security forces brutally cracked down on initial protests, which prompted the biggest rally in the country's modern history over the weekend against the strongman.

"The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader," said Michel in a tweet announcing the summit of the 27 leaders.

"Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed," he added.

EU leaders are also expected to send a message to Russia not to meddle in Belarus, as Russian president Vladimir Putin offered military help to Lukashenko.

"The people of Belarus have the right to determine their own future. To allow for this, violence has to stop and a peaceful and inclusive dialogue has to be launched. The leadership of Belarus must reflect the will of the people," Michel told the 27 EU leaders in an invitation letter.

"There should be no outside interference," Michel wrote, without naming Russia.

"The people of Belarus have the right to determine their future and to choose their leaders freely," a senior EU official said about the message EU leaders want to push on Wednesday, adding that the bloc "wants to send an important message of solidarity to the people of Belarus".

Michel called the violence against protesters "shocking", adding that those responsible must be held to account.

The leaders are also expected to discuss help to the country of 9.5 million people, where Lukashenko's 26-year rule has been shaken to the core.

Poland and Baltic support

Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland, EU-member neighbours of Belarus, called for EU funds to the victims of the crackdown, support for independent media, academia, and civil society.

Poland, the three Baltic states and others have called for EU mediation between Lukashenko and the opposition.

"We are also reiterating our readiness to support the political process that will implement the free will of the Belarusian people," Polish president Andrzej Duda tweeted on Monday.

Poland on Monday pledged €11 million in funding to help Belarussians to pay for visas and resettle in Poland.

Czech foreign minister Tomáš Petříček said the EU needed to send a clear signal that a Russian military engagement in the ex-Soviet state was unacceptable.

Czech PM Andrej Babiš over the weekend also warned against Russian interference, referring to the 1968 Soviet crackdown of the Prague Spring.

Germany's president Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday urged the military in Belarus not to use violence against Belarus protestors.

The EU already agreed, last Friday, to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials responsible for election fraud and the violent crackdown on mass protests. Officials would be barred from entering the EU and their assets would be frozen.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany was prepared to back broader EU sanctions against Belarus, adding that further measures would depend on Minsk's next moves.

Hungary's foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said on Monday that Budapest backed Poland's call for new presidential election in Belarus with international monitoring.

Hungary has earlier called for EU dialogue with Lukashenko, while in June, Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán called for a complete lifting of EU sanctions on Minsk.

Lukashenko, meanwhile, said on Monday he would be ready to hold new elections and hand over power after a constitutional referendum once pressure from protesters is gone, according to Reuters.

EU leaders urge Putin to push for Belarus dialogue

European Council president Charles Michel, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel had each one of them a call with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (18 August) on the situation in Belarus, calling for dialogue.

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