US, EU sanction Belarus in coordinated Western action
The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials on Friday, as part of a coordinated effort by Western allies to censor the authoritarian regime on charges of political repression and rigging of elections.
The EU struck a deal early in the morning to push forward a package of sanctions against more than three dozen Belarusians found responsible for cracking down on protests and electoral fraud. Hours later, the US Treasury Department blacklisted eight longtime government figures of President Alexander Lukashenko or associated with his regime. Among those on the blacklist were Interior Minister Yuriy Khadzymuratavich Kareau and senior electoral commission officials.
The EU’s action against Belarus, along with a joint statement berating Turkey for drilling in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece, was intended to be a broader message of growing concern about the eastern outskirts of the country. ‘Europe, a region that had once hoped for an expansion of democracy, increasingly reverting to its authoritarian past.
Divisions within the EU have hampered an attempt to sanction Turkey at a summit this week, but officials said the bloc may approve punitive actions in the future.
The EU was able to move forward with its sanctions package against Belarus, initially pledged in August, after Greece and Cyprus secured the statement calling on Turkey to stop drilling.
While the United States sanctioned Lukashenko in 2006, the EU has so far refused to include the Belarusian leader himself in their action. Officials said the president, who was previously subject to EU sanctions lifted in 2016, could still be targeted later.
EU sanctions went into effect on Friday afternoon. Lukashenko’s Interior Minister was also one of the most prominent names on the EU sanctions list.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry condemned the sanctions and said the government has also adopted its own sanctions list, which will not be made public. He said he could also reconsider his participation in joint programs with the EU and could sever diplomatic ties if further EU sanctions are imposed.
“The sanctions were introduced as a punitive measure (…) for Belarus’ failure to comply with a set of ultimatum requirements that no self-respecting sovereign state would meet,” said the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The statement did not address specific allegations of election rigging and violent political repression.
US and EU sanctions follow the imposition of sanctions against Lukashenko and seven senior government officials by UK and Canada Tuesday, a sign of growing discontent in the West over the continued crackdown on peaceful protests against his alleged victory in a contested election.
Western officials have accused Lukashenko and his allies of multiple human rights violations by detaining and torturing protesters following the August 9 vote, which Lukashenko’s opponents and Western governments say was rigged in his favor to extend his tenure by more than a quarter. century in power.
The EU called for a resumption of presidential elections under international supervision. He warned that he could add additional sanctions if Lukashenko refused to enter into dialogue with the opposition.
The US sanctions targeted officials who the Treasury Department said head government offices responsible for political repression, human rights violations and election manipulation. In addition to the two senior officials of the Interior Ministry, the Treasury also blacklisted the two heads of the internal interior troops, Yuriy Henadzievich Nazaranka and Khazalbek Bakhtsibekavich Atabekau.
“The democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people to choose their own leaders and to exercise their rights peacefully have come up against the violence and oppression of Belarusian officials,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
The Trump administration has so far refused to revoke a special license giving Belarus’s nine largest state-owned enterprises access to the US financial system, as requested by the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe , a government agency that advises administrations on sanctions.
While the EU’s sanctions against Belarus enjoyed broad support, the bloc was deeply divided over how to respond to the increasingly frequent flexing of Turkey’s military might in the region, including its unilateral measures for the exploration and drilling of energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey claims to have the right to search for energy resources in the region.
As for Turkey, EU leaders have opted for diplomacy for now, issuing the joint statement but threatening sanctions if Ankara does not show a willingness to improve relations.
Western diplomats have said tensions between Ankara and Athens this summer have reached levels not seen since the 1970s, when Turkey and Greece bordered on a direct military conflict over Cyprus. Greece and Turkey are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
However, Turkey has so far suspended its energy activities in waters claimed by Greece but not by Cyprus. Separately, Turkey and Greece reached an agreement on Thursday, mediated by NATO, to take measures to avoid an air or naval clash in the eastern Mediterranean, including a hotline between the two countries.
European diplomats have also expressed concern over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to send troops to Libya and Syria, his staunch supporter support for Azerbaijan in the resumption of fighting with Armenia and its acquisition of advanced weapons from Russia.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said France had clear evidence that jihadist fighters were leaving Syria to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh via Turkey. Mr Macron had previously criticized Ankara for what he called its bellicose comments against Armenia over its conflict with Azerbaijan.
—Ann Simmons in Moscow contributed to this article.
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