Monday, September 21, 2020
Breakfast turns into a political issue: because the EU foreign ministers receive the Belarusian opposition party Tichanovskaya in Brussels, emotions are boiling in Moscow and Minsk. But the supporters of President Lukashenko need not fear any concrete consequences after the meeting.
The foreign ministers of the EU states caused outrage by meeting with the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya in Minsk and Moscow. Russia condemned the reception of the opponent of the head of state Alexander Lukashenko as interference in the internal affairs of the former Soviet republic. “Given the situation in Belarus, this runs counter to the goal of restoring stability,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Sakharova.
The government in Minsk, which otherwise prefers to let its supporters from Russia speak for itself, was outraged that the 38-year-old was received on the international stage. “Our country is facing unprecedented external pressure,” said Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko. The West is trying to plunge the country into “chaos”. The Foreign Ministry said the reception was a disregard for the Belarusian people, whom Lukashenko had re-elected on August 9 by a large majority.
The EU sharply rejected the allegations. At breakfast with Tichanovskaya in the morning it was about democracy and human rights, said the EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell. “This cannot be viewed as an intrusion into internal affairs.” In addition, several foreign ministers made it clear that they are ready to tighten the course against Minsk again.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke out in favor of examining sanctions against Lukashenko personally. “We have to realize that nothing has got better in the last few weeks. The violence that Lukashenko is using against peaceful demonstrators is completely unacceptable,” said the SPD politician in Brussels. One must now ask oneself whether Lukashenko should not also be on the sanctions list as the main responsible.
Cyprus blocks previous punitive measures
The planned Belarus sanctions are supposed to affect around 40 people who are accused of participating in election fraud or violent crackdown on peaceful protests – including the interior minister. There have been protests and strikes against Lukashenko in Belarus since the presidential election. The head of state, who has been in power for 26 years, was declared the winner again with 80.1 percent. There have since been several dead, hundreds injured and more than 10,000 arrests. Russia gives political and financial support to Lukashenko, who has been described as the “last dictator in Europe”.
The democracy movement in the country sees Tichanovskaya as the winner. “We are really impressed by the courage and perseverance of the people in Belarus,” said EU Foreign Affairs Representative Borrell. The women in particular showed real leadership. Tichanowskaja called on the EU states to turn off the money supply to the regime. “All the money that Mr. Lukashenko can get now (…) will only be used for violence.” At their meeting, she showed the ministers what violence she means: she held up the photo of a severely abused male body.
But it is still unclear when the EU will even be able to adopt the penalties that have been planned for weeks. The reason is a veto by the small EU country Cyprus, which wants to persuade the other member states to support new sanctions against Turkey. Cyprus and Greece have long been calling on the EU to react more sharply to Turkish gas explorations in the eastern Mediterranean that they consider illegal. Other EU countries believe that this could make ongoing mediation efforts difficult. You therefore want to wait before agreeing to new Turkey sanctions.
Cyprus was again angry about this at the beginning of the week. “Our reaction to violations of our core values and principles cannot be à la carte. It has to be consistent,” said Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulidis on EU policy.
Agreement on Libya question
The blockade of Cyprus, which is extremely uncomfortable for the EU, could rekindle the debate that has been going on for a long time about a possible abandonment of the principle of unanimity in sanctioning decisions. Countries like Germany have shown themselves to be fundamentally open to such a step – but it is unclear how far it could go. Countries such as Cyprus are likely to refuse to allow sanction decisions to be taken unanimously in the future for violations of human rights, but not for violations of the national sovereignty of EU states.
Meanwhile, the EU foreign ministers showed unity on the subject of Libya: They imposed sanctions for violating the UN arms embargo. The ministers decided to take action against three companies from Turkey, Jordan and Kazakhstan and two people, as EU diplomats announced. They are said to have been involved in the delivery of war material while circumventing the embargo. Possible accounts of companies in the EU will be blocked by the sanctions. In addition, European companies are no longer allowed to maintain business relationships with them. Entry bans and account freezes are imposed on the persons.
The sanctions were decided in principle by the EU ambassadors of the 27 member states on Friday and have now been put into effect by the ministers. It is the first time that the EU has imposed sanctions for violating the arms embargo on its own. So far it had only implemented UN sanctions in this area.
At an international Libya conference in Berlin in January, the countries involved had actually promised not to continue to support the conflicting parties and to comply with the existing arms embargo. Since then, however, weapons have continued to enter the country. In March of this year, the EU decided on a new naval mission to enforce the arms embargo. The “Irini” military operation uses ships and airplanes to monitor the sea route to Libya in particular.