The European Union (EU) has agreed to sanction Belarus, after weeks of deadlock on adopting punitive measures against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.
For the sanctions to be implemented, the EU needed unanimous approval from all 27 member states. but Cyprus and Greece kept refusing to offer their vote, insisting that the bloc must extend sanctions on Turkey over a border dispute in the eastern Mediterranean.
The two finally won the bloc’s backing on a statement demanding an end to Turkish drilling in what they claim as their waters, according to EU leaders.
On early Friday morning, the bloc agreed to target around 40 senior officials of Belarus.
The sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans.
Lukashenko remains a possible target of a travel ban and asset freeze, but he is not included in the recent sanctions.
The leaders called on the EU to formally approve the sanctions “without delay.”
“We have decided today to implement the sanctions,” said European Council President Charles Michel on Friday.
“It’s very important to do what we decided a few weeks ago,” and to send a signal that “we are credible,” he added.
He said that the bloc “will follow the situation” and that changes could be made.
EU sanctions follow the UK and Canada measures taken against Lukashenko and seven senior figures in his government.
The West accused the Lukashenko government of repressing opposition protests, which were set off by allegations of election fraud.
Lukashenko won the country’s presidential election in August, but opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya rejected the official results of the election and claimed there had been voter fraud. Belarus has been experiencing unrest ever since.
Tikhanovskaya, who later fled to Lithuania in the aftermath of the election, has been rallying Western support for herself. Several Western states have thrown their weight behind the opposition protests, threatening Lukashenko with sanctions.
Lukashenko has rejected the allegations of vote rigging but proposed the drafting of a new constitution less reliant on the head of state.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denounced the “unprecedented external pressure” exerted on Belarus, after French President Emmanuel Macron met with Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania.
Putin said that Belarus was in a “difficult situation” and facing “unprecedented external pressure.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said on Wednesday that she will meet Tsikhanouskaya.