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14th Aug 2022

EU examines ways to trim Belarus sanctions

EU experts are preparing options on how to reduce Belarus sanctions, with a majority of EU states open to the idea of re-opening diplomatic ties with President Lukashenko's regime despite rigged elections.

A meeting of senior EU diplomats in the Political and Security Committee (PSC) in Brussels on Tuesday (30 September) called for the expert analysis, which will be put together on Thursday in the so-called COEST "working group."

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Minimalist options could be suspending a 1997 ban on meetings with Belarus politicians above deputy-minister level, or taking a few junior names off a 41-strong EU visa ban list compiled over the past four years.

The experts may also suggest temporarily suspending the whole visa ban register to allow top-level meetings with Belarus President Lukashenko, even though such a move would theoretically welcome characters such as former security chief Viktor Sheyman - accused of murder by the Council of Europe - into the EU.

"It's a moral dilemma. Nobody wants to let in people with blood on their hands but nobody wants to leave Belarus in a vacuum either," an EU diplomat told EUobserver. "We are well aware that [Russian prime minister Vladimir] Putin is going to visit Minsk on 6 October. But we have no possibility to counter that with our own offer."

The PSC meeting saw the 27 EU states agree with the OSCE verdict that Sunday's parliamentary vote in Belarus fell short of democratic standards. The PSC ambassadors also recognised that Belarus made some positive steps by freeing political prisoners ahead of the vote and allowing selected street protests to go unpunished.

But there was less agreement on how to handle the regime going forward. "Most of the countries were either in favour of some kind of sanctions move or signaled that they would not object," the EU diplomat said.

Poland and Lithuania are leading the push to re-open relations for fear that Belarus could be lost to Russia once and for all in the new Cold War atmosphere after the Georgia conflict. Germany is in the neutral camp. But Denmark and the Netherlands are the strongest opponents of any sanctions move, Polish press agency PAP reported.

The PSC gathering was the first EU 27-level discussion of Belarus after the elections. The final decision on sanctions is likely to be unveiled at an EU foreign ministers' meeting on 13 October.

The French EU presidency on Tuesday issued a default statement on the parliamentary vote, urging Belarus authorities to "redouble their efforts to come into conformity with international democratic standards."

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