Correspondent in Brussels
Are Europeans showing that they can react firmly when a third country goes too far? In any case, this is the message that the EU foreign ministers wanted to send to the Belarusian authorities, who were, for the first time in months, meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
Forty regime officials – including the Minister of the Interior and his deputy – had already been sanctioned ten days ago, in the wake of the last European Council, because of their involvement in the repression and rigging of the presidential election August 9. As the crackdown grows, ministers have chosen to step up a gear. According to the political agreement that was found in Luxembourg, the list of those sanctioned will be extended to other officials including Alexander Lukashenko in person. He will be persona non grata on EU territory and his assets will be frozen.
The Twenty-Seven had initially chosen to spare the Belarusian president so as not to compromise a possible beginning of dialogue between the authorities and the opponents. But, “authorities reject OSCE dialogue and mission“, Explained the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, while pointing out the repressions which Minsk was again the theater at the end of the week and during which”the government reacted disproportionately». “Nothing has improved in Belarus. The violence of the Lukashenko regime and the arrest of peaceful demonstrators continue ”, had regretted, a few hours earlier, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas.
Europeans want to coordinate both to show solidarity with Poles and Lithuanians and to continue supporting civil society
A European source
According to the human rights NGO Viasna, no less than 600 opponents were arrested on Sunday alone, even though the day before, Lukashenko, had curiously chosen to go to a prison to dialogue for four hours. with “protesters”, thus blowing hot and cold.
The EU has also decided to reduce bilateral cooperation with the Belarusian authorities. “The Europeans want to coordinate both to show solidarity with the Poles and Lithuanians, who have been forced to reduce their diplomatic presence there, and to continue supporting civil society by maintaining a diplomatic and consular presence. “, confides a European source.
At this stage, the announcement of forthcoming sanctions against Lukashenko has hardly softened Belarusian power, the legitimacy of which the Europeans, moreover, do not recognize. Quite the contrary. Shortly after the end of the Luxembourg meeting, the Belarusian Interior Ministry announced its intention to appeal “if necessary” to live ammunition. “The demonstrations, which mainly moved to Minsk, have become organized and extremely radical”, specified a press release.
Be that as it may, the Europeans have shown speed this time. The same applies to the new Russian sanctions, in response to the poisoning of the opponent Alexeï Navalny. As France and Germany wished, the Twenty-Seven gave the green light. It remains to finalize the list, expected in the coming days.