After weeks of deadlock, EU leaders have now paved the way to long-delayed sanctions on the regime in Belarus over disputed election and crackdown on protesters. The EU had already agreed in mid-August to impose sanctions on a list of about 40 Belarus government officials.
Cyprus – which had blocked sanctions for the last weeks as it wants penalties imposed on Turkey for its energy explorations in Cypriot and Greek waters – lifted its veto on Belarus restrictions, after other EU member states agreed to issue a threat of sanctions against Ankara over its Mediterranean energy exploration.
This allowed the EU to impose restrictions on about 40 senior Belarusian officials. These are asset freeze measures and travel bans for the designated individuals. President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko himself is not on the sanction list for now, but he could be added in the future.
For now there are no other – more comprehensive – sectoral or other economic sanctions that would prohibit EU entities to do business with Belarus or restrict business with certain economic sectors.
Even if those sanctions only impose limited (economic and/or political) pressure and may therefore only have little impact on President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s behavior or hold on power, any further delay to Belarus sanctions would have threatened the EU’s credibility and these sanctions are an important signal the EU is unified in dealing with regions on its borders that are in crisis.
As a prerequisite to Cyprus agreeing to Belarus sanctions, the EU leaders agreed a compromise that urges Turkey to enter into serious negotiations with both Cyprus and Greece on disputed waters and energy rights and threatens the use of all legal, diplomatic and technical instruments, mechanisms and options available, including economic sanctions against Turkey. It also offered the possibility of a more positive political EU-Turkey agenda if Ankara co-operated, including an update of the customs union between the EU and Turkey.
While such threat of broader sanctions against Turkey (with more impact on the Turkish economy) over its contentious Mediterranean energy exploration activities still falls short of immediate economic sanctions it is still a step towards a tougher stance against Ankara than the largely symbolic travel bans and asset freezes imposed against two Turkish Petroleum Corporation executives earlier this year.
As Turkey is now in negotiations with Greece after mediation by Germany and the NATO, the EU tried to keep the atmosphere positive and not to (further upset) Ankara by imposing specific comprehensive sanctions against it now, in particular taking into account its importance in managing migration flows into Europe.