After summit talks that stretched into the early morning on October 2, EU leaders were able to overcome a diplomatic stalemate created by Cyprus and agreed on a delayed sanctions package on Belarus.
“We have decided today to implement the sanctions,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters after chairing the summit in Brussels.
Michel said a special procedure would be launched on October 2 to sanction about 40 Belarus officials with asset freezes and travel bans.
Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claims to have won the August 9 presidential election by a landslide, is not on the sanctions list. EU diplomats have said he may be added at a later date.
Britain and Canada have already sanctioned Belarus officials, including Lukashenka.
The EU has rejected the result of the election that returned Lukashenka to power for a sixth term and have condemned a widening crackdown on protesters and the opposition.
“There will be no impunity for those who are responsible for the crackdown on demonstrators and opposition politicians,” European Commission President Ursala von der Leyen told reporters.
Michel said it was important to show the EU remained “credible,” after tiny Cyprus blocked Belarus sanctions – agreed to in August — over a separate dispute with Turkey about maritime borders and energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean that has also drawn the ire of Greece.
Cyprus demanded the EU act consistently when responding to the violation of core principles and demanded sanctions on Turkey. EU sanctions require unanimous consent from member states, making the Cyprus hold up on Belarus a blow to EU’s image.
To overcome the embarrassing diplomatic row with Cyprus, EU leaders agreed on a strong statement of support for Cyprus, as well as for Greece, and a warning that Turkey could face sanctions if it continues drilling in disputed waters. A summit in December is now expected to assess any progress with Turkey on issues in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“It is now Turkey that has to prove that it wants to go the constructive road with us, and this is the offer tonight. But we are very clear that in the opposite case we have all necessary tools at our disposal,” von der Leyen said after the meeting.
Already battered relations between the EU and Ankara deteriorated further in July when Turkey sent a research ship with a naval escort to work in contested waters, with Athens responding with war games backed by France.
Turkey and Greece have since agreed to resume long-stalled talks as Germany in particular presses for a diplomatic resolution to the stand-off between the two NATO members.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped for a “constructive agenda with Turkey, provided that efforts to reduce tensions advance,” including talks on refugee policy and trade.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and Tagesschau.