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23rd Jan 2021

EU blacklists Belarus interior minister and 39 others

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel (c) at the EU summit in Brussels (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU states imposed asset-freezes and visa-bans on 40 Belarusians on Friday (2 October) after Cyprus, finally, dropped its veto.

The top name on the list was Belarusian interior minister Yuri Karaeu, whom the EU accused of orchestrating "arbitrary arrests and ill‐treatment, including torture, of peaceful demonstrators as well as intimidation and violence against journalists".

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It designated 25 other security, police, and intelligence chiefs for similar reasons.

It also listed 14 officials responsible for "misconduct of the 2020 presidential electoral process, its non-compliance with basic international standards of fairness and transparency".

The blacklist fell far short of measures that the EU applied after a previous Belarusian crackdown in 2010.

Those had covered Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko as well as oligarchs said to be bankrolling his regime.

But German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Friday's decision in any case.

The sanctions were "an important signal", she said after an EU summit in Brussels, which "strengthens the hand of those who are protesting for freedom of opinion in Belarus."

"We hope these sanctions will encourage the Belarusian leadership to refrain from further violence [and] to free all the unlawfully-detained people", Josep Borrell, the EU foreign relations chief, also said.

"The EU is ready to impose additional restrictive measures if the situation does not improve," he added.

"We showed ... Europe can deliver when it counts," Latvian prime minister Krišjānis Kariņš said.

The Belarus decision had turned into a test of EU foreign policy, after Cyprus vetoed it on the grounds that it wanted similar Turkey sanctions at the same time.

EU test

But in the end, Nicosia backed down in return for EU tough talk on Turkey's recent naval incursions into Cypriot and Greek waters.

"In case of renewed [Turkish] unilateral actions or provocations ... the EU will use all the instruments and options at its disposal," EU leaders warned in a joint communiqué.

Potential blacklists of Turkish individuals and entities could be "triggered immediately", European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also said.

For their part, Cypriot president Nikos Anastasiadis and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said they were "absolutely satisfied" by the EU pledge.

EU leaders also urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to call a ceasefire after one week of intense fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan.

And EU Council president Charles Michel said "external interference" in the conflict was "unacceptable" after France, on Thursday, accused Turkey of sending Syrian "jihadists" to fight on the side of its Azeri ally.

Turkey incentives

EU leaders also offered Turkey incentives if it came to heel.

They spoke of "the modernisation of the [EU-Turkey] Customs Union and trade facilitation, people-to-people contacts, high-level dialogues, [and] continued cooperation on migration issues".

"While there were some positive elements in the decisions regarding our country, many areas were divorced from realities," the Turkish foreign ministry said in response.

It called for the creation of a "mechanism" to share oil and gas resources between Cyprus and Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.

And "as long as this is not achieved, the Turkish-Cypriot side will continue with its hydrocarbon activities by means of [Turkish energy company] TPAO," Turkey said.

Belarus, for its part, previously threatened to impose counter-sanctions if the EU went ahead, such as expulsions of European journalists.

Belarus opposition leader urges EU to be 'braver'

The Belarus oppositon leader asked the EU not to support the Belarus authorities financially, and not to recognise Lukashenko as the country's president when his term ends in November.

Cyprus leaves EU ministers red-faced on Belarus

EU foreign ministers will have nothing to show Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya when they meet her in Brussels on Monday, after Cyprus blocked sanctions.

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