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2nd Mar 2024

EU ministers urged to talk Belarus, Turkey sanctions

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell spoke of targeted sanctions against the Belarusian regime (Photo: European Union)

EU states have urged foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell to call emergency foreign ministers talks on potential Belarus and Turkey sanctions.

The foreign ministers of Finland, Poland, and the Baltic states asked for a snap meeting on Belarus after gathering in Riga on Tuesday (11 August).

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"EU foreign ministers should meet as soon as possible," Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said, as lethal clashes between Belarus security forces and protesters continued for a third day, following rigged elections this weekend.

EU ministers should also meet to discuss Turkish aggression, the office of Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged Borrell the same day, after a Turkish convoy, accompanied by warships and fighter jets, sailed into disputed waters near Greek islands to search for oil and gas.

The Belarus crisis turned ugly when two people reportedly lost their lives in recent days.

Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko has driven into exile in Lithuania the opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, after forcing her to record a hostage-video recognising his election victory.

He has also put paratroopers armed with live ammunition on the streets of Minsk and arrested some 5,000 people, in his most severe crackdown in a decade.

The Turkey dispute could also get uglier.

"There will be no tolerance. Greece will defend its [territorial] integrity," Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias said on Tuesday, after putting the Greek military on high alert.

"We call on Turkey to leave the Greek continental shelf immediately," he added.

"Our determination is unfaltering here," Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the same day.

"Every drop of our blue homeland is sacred," a Turkish spokesman, Fahrettin Altun, also tweeted on Tuesday, referring to a Turkish naval motto.

For his part, Borrell's spokesman said the EU was seized by both problems, but did not confirm if EU foreign ministers would meet.

"The whole range of issues related to the relations between the European Union and Belarus is currently under review due to the unfortunate events," he said on Tuesday.

"The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is extremely worrying and needs to be solved in a dialogue," the EU spokesman added.

Both crises posed questions on EU sanctions.

The EU lifted most of its Belarus measures in 2016.

They could quickly snap back into place in legal terms, but would require a political consensus to do so.

The EU might adopt new "measures against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results," Borrell said in a statement on Tuesday.

But when asked if there was a likelihood of new EU sanctions, an EU source told EUobserver that the situation in Minsk was still mutating too quickly to say.

The Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, also said Lukashenko could still pull back.

"There's still a chance for Belarus to avoid this path [sanctions]. We must appeal to ... Lukashenko to talk to citizens," Czaputowicz said in Riga.

Meanwhile, the EU already adopted sanctions against Turkey's naval adventures in disputed zones.

But the visa bans and asset freezes, imposed in February for "unauthorised drilling" in disputed waters between July 2019 and January this year, were limited to two executives from the Turkish Petroleum Corporation and did not touch the regime of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The EU stands in full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece," Borrell's spokesman also said on Tuesday.

But EU sanctions on Turkey risk prompting Erdogan, once again, to drive migrants to the EU border.

They also risk pushing Turkey, a Nato member, closer to Russia in a strategic cost to the West.

And sanctions on Belarus also have to take geopolitics into account.

A revanchist Russia would be only too happy to swallow Belarus in a state union after it already enlarged its borders by annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, in an act of aggression which set Europe and the West on edge.

And for his part, Russian president Vladimir Putin urged Lukashenko to "deepen cooperation within the Union State, and build up integration processes" in his Belarus post-election statement.

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