BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers failed to agree sanctions against Belarusian officials on Monday, despite an appeal by the country’s main opposition leader.
After a sixth straight weekend of huge protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya travelled to Brussels to try to convince the EU to follow through on a sanctions threat it announced last month.
So far the bloc has yet to approve a list of some 40 Belarusian officials to be hit with travel bans and asset freezes. Cyprus has been seen as blocking approval by tying the Belarus measures to unrelated sanctions it wants on Turkey in a gas exploration dispute.
“Although there is a clear will to adopt the sanctions, the required unanimity was not reached,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting of foreign ministers, told reporters, referring to EU rules that all 27 states must agree.
Approval is still possible by EU leaders at a summit on Thursday and Borrell said that by the next time foreign ministers meet on Oct. 12, the sanctions would be agreed. But he also acknowledged the paralysis was damaging for the EU’s image.
“If we are not able to (approve Belarus sanctions), then our credibility is at stake,” Borrell told a news conference.
Back in Minsk, a city court rejected a legal appeal from the defence team of Tsikhanouskaya’s political ally, Maria Kolesnikova, against her detention.
Kolesnikova was jailed after ripping up her passport to prevent the Belarusian authorities from forcibly expelling her to Ukraine. She was charged last week with calling for “actions aimed at undermining Belarusian national security”.
About a hundred supporters gathered in and around the courthouse. Kolesnikova was not in court in person but when she appeared on a video screen people inside began to applaud.
Though the EU announce plans for the sanctions last month, enacting them requires support from all 27 member states. Cyprus wants a deal first on measures in its dispute against Turkey.
“Our reaction to any kind of violation of our core, basic values and principles cannot be a la carte. It needs to be consistent,” Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said.
The presidents of Lithuania, Poland and Romania said on Monday they will ask EU leaders at this week’s summit to offer an economic support package for Belarus if it holds a democratic election. That would include a favourable trade regime with the EU, visa-free travel and support as a candidate for the World Trade Organization.
“EU leaders have reasons not to push sanctions but I asked them to be more brave,” Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the election, told reporters after meeting foreign ministers.
“Sanctions are important in our fight because it’s part of pressure that could force the so-called authorities to start dialogue with us in the opposition council.”
Additional reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Editing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan