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EU foreign ministers to try to break deadlock on Belarus sanctions



The EU remains deadlocked over an agreement to impose sanctions against officials in Belarus involved in the violent crackdown against protesters, and the matter will next week reach the level of foreign ministers — and potentially EU leaders after that.

The bloc has prepared a list of sanctions hitting about 40 Belarusian officials but at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Friday they didn’t manage to unblock the impasse because of objections from Cyprus, diplomats said.

The sanctions list was initially shorter but it has increased in size as the situation in Belarus has kept on deteriorating in the wake of an August 9 presidential election that incumbent Alexander Lukashenko claims to have won but that triggered mass protests that have been repressed with violence and brutality. Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is expected to be in Brussels on Monday to meet the foreign ministers as well as Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat.

Some diplomats said there was a great deal of frustration. “Cyprus has de facto vetoed the decision on Belarus sanctions,” said one diplomat. “This move by Nicosia effectively shields the Lukashenko regime from the consequences of its undemocratic and oppressive behavior,” the diplomat added.

Others played down the standoff, stressing that even if foreign ministers can’t make a breakthrough on Monday, then EU leaders will try and find a solution when they meet for a summit on Thursday. “Cyprus said clearly that it’s not against the Belarus sanctions,” said a second diplomat, and “if we wait a few more days, at the end it doesn’t make such a difference.”

Frustration with divisions among member states on EU foreign policy is so high that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week relaunched a call for the introduction of qualified majority voting, instead of unanimity.

Cyprus’ issue is because of a link with another set of sanctions, against Turkey for what the EU considers illegal drilling in the Mediterranean island’s territorial waters.

While many officials deny there’s such a link, in the European Parliament this week, Borrell explained that he is working “to find a solution that could make possible for both, sanctions to Belarus and sanctions to Turkey, to follow the same pace,” as foreign ministers agreed last month in Berlin.

Cyprus has drawn up a list of five Turkish officials and three entities, according to two diplomats, that it wants to be added to an existing framework of sanctions connected to the drilling. But there is a timing issue: EU leaders on Thursday will discuss relations with Turkey and although they have not ruled out new sanctions on Ankara, the relationship is, in the words of Borrell, “at a watershed moment.”

As mediation efforts with Ankara, led by Germany, are underway, Berlin and other capitals are afraid that rushing out new sanctions (which would target also a high-ranking Turkish deputy minister) could trigger an escalation in tensions.

At a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, a majority of EU countries urged the swift adoption of sanctions against Belarus. Among them were Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, some Nordic countries and Italy, a third diplomat said.

Frustration with divisions among member states on EU foreign policy is so high that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week relaunched a call for the introduction of qualified majority voting, instead of unanimity, “at least on human rights and sanctions implementation.”

However, according to two diplomats, in the specific case of the Belarus sanctions they could already be backed by a qualified majority. But politically “it would send the wrong message, that we cannot reach unanimity on such an issue,” said one of the two diplomats.



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