EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, as the bloc seeks to step up pressure over his regime’s crackdown on protesters.
Two diplomatic sources said the 27 ministers meeting in Luxembourg had agreed Lukashenko’s name should join a list of 40 of his officials already sanctioned by the EU.
The 40 already hit with travel bans and asset freezes are blamed for rigging an election in August that returned Lukashenko to power and for a brutal crackdown on mass protests that have rocked the country since the vote.
The EU had held back from penalising Lukashenko himself, hoping to persuade him to engage in dialogue with opposition forces to resolve the crisis.
But a fresh crackdown on protests in Minsk on Sunday, which saw police use water cannon and stun grenades to break up a protest in Minsk and make hundreds of arrests, prompted a change.
As he arrived for the meeting in Luxembourg, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was time to expand the sanctions list to include the strongman leader.
“The violence continues, perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime — there are still arrests of peaceful demonstrators, so we have to consider how to proceed,” said Maas, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
“I have suggested that we establish a new package of sanctions. And Lukashenko should be among the people who will then be sanctioned.”
The EU has rejected the results of the August 9 election and said it does not regard Lukashenko as the legitimate president.
– Novichok plot –
After getting the political green light from ministers, the new sanctions listings will be processed in detail by the EU’s legal services before they enter into force.
The ministers were also to discuss a joint French-German proposal for sanctions over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
Germany and France last week accused Moscow of responsibility for poisoning Navalny with the Soviet-developed Novichok nerve agent, saying “no credible explanation has been provided by Russia”.
France and Germany said they would push for sanctions targeting “individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms, based on their official function, as well as an entity involved in the Novichok programme”.
The ministers on Monday extended the EU’s chemical weapons sanctions framework, under which four Russians accused of involvement in the Novichok poisoning of an ex-double agent in England have already been listed.
Any sanctions related to the Navalny case would be made under this framework, which has also been used against Syrian officials for carrying out chemical weapons attacks on their civil war foes.
The sanctions call came after UN chemical weapons watchdog OPCW confirmed Germany, France and Sweden’s finding that the Russian opposition leader was poisoned by a nerve agent of the Soviet-developed Novichok group.
Monday’s meeting will also take stock of EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
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