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Sanctions against Belarus: Europe's great embarrassment


A veto from Cyprus, a postponed special summit and a flare-up debate about unanimity in foreign policy: attempts by the EU to sanction the Lukashenko regime have turned into a farce.

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Belarusian ruler Lukashenko: Little to fear from the divided EU

Photo: Andrei Stasevich / BelTA / AP

For a diplomat, Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, sometimes finds clear words.

"Although there is a clear will to impose these sanctions, this was not possible today because the unanimity required for this was not achieved," he said after the meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday afternoon.

And added with a sad expression: "This is where the EU's credibility is at stake."

Borrell is not exaggerating.

Everything has actually been prepared to bring the long-announced sanctions against Belarus into force.

Lists of around 40 followers of ruler Alexander Lukashenko, against whom account and entry bans are to be imposed, have long been ready.

But the EU foreign ministers do not agree.

And that's why so far - almost two months after the fraudulent election in Belarus and the start of the demonstrations against Lukashenko - there is no sign of the EU sanctions.

The reason for this has nothing to do with Belarus at all.

The Republic of Cyprus (the north of the island is occupied by Turkish troops) is currently fighting with Turkey over raw materials in the eastern Mediterranean.

To prevent Turkey from continuing to search aggressively for gas there, President Nikos Anastasiadis is demanding sanctions against Turkey by his EU partners.

Until there is no such thing, the Cypriots for their part do not want to agree to the sanctions against Belarus.

Nothing to be seen of Europe's strategic independence

This also applies to Greece, which is also in a raw material clinch with the Turks, but at least does not openly block the sanctions against Lukashenko.

Since then, the matter has dragged on - and the embarrassment for Europe grows with each passing day. 

That is also registered outside.

The "New York Times" stated that the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya demanded sanctions and "bravery" from the EU foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels.

"She left with neither."

The strategic independence that the Europeans would like to achieve between the world powers USA and China cannot even be seen on their own continent.

Once again, the issue of sanctions against the Belarusian leadership highlights one of the greatest evils of the EU's common foreign policy - it requires unanimity.

"It is disappointing that the EU has still not been able to agree on sanctions against the Lukashenko regime," said David McAllister (CDU), head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, to SPIEGEL.

"It is clear once again that the principle of unanimity on sanctions and human rights issues should be replaced. The common EU foreign policy must become more effective." 

"The principle of unanimity on sanctions and human rights issues should be replaced"

David McAllister, Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament

Should the EU not be able to take sanctions against Belarus in the medium term because of the blockade of Cyprus, "the damage to the EU's foreign policy credibility would be enormous," says SPD politician Katarina Barley, Vice-President of the European Parliament.

"This is not a shining example of European solidarity and determination," stated the Greens foreign politician Reinhard Bütikofer.

"The Cyprus government is undermining the EU's ability to act in a way that is difficult to understand and self-damaging."

Nothing is going on

More and more EU countries can imagine putting Lukashenko on the Belarus sanctions list - at the meeting of foreign ministers only Sweden and Finland were clearly against it.

But nothing is going on because of Cyprus' veto.

Conversely, many EU countries, especially Germany, refuse to comply with Cyprus’s request to extend the sanctions list against Turkey.

One does not want to strain the already tense relationship with Ankara, also because of the refugee issue.

Two employees of the Turkish state energy company TPAO are currently blocked from travel and accounts. 

The situation is also unfortunate because the EU's mediation efforts in the past few days have apparently shown initial successes, at least in the dispute between Turks and Greeks.

The exploration ship "Oruc Reis", accompanied by the military, sailed into disputed waters, was ordered back to the port.

EU Council President Charles Michel, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen paid their respects to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sometimes in person, sometimes via video conference.

Erdoğan has reportedly hardly deviated from his position on the matter.

But at least he showed his sociable side.

Turkey would be pretty much alone in the event of further escalation.

Trouble about postponed EU summit

The impression was solidified that the heads of state and government could have untangled the tangle of problems between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey at their special summit planned for Thursday and Friday in Brussels.

But then Council President Michel learned on Wednesday that one of his security guards had been infected with the corona virus.

Michel went into quarantine following the Belgian rules and postponed the summit for a week. 

This met with displeasure in many EU countries because Michel apparently did not even consider being represented at the special summit.

The heads of state and government should now meet at the end of next week.

Until then, EU diplomats can only hope that Erdoğan will not let himself be carried away by the next provocation. 

Dictator Lukashenko used the hesitation of Europeans to create facts.

He was introduced to office as president among confidants.

"Lukashenko is increasing his commitment to the EU," says an experienced Brussels diplomat.

What he means by that: So far, the EU has not recognized the result of the election.

Now it is against a president who - however illegally - is in office. 

Erdoğan meanwhile keeps all options open.

The "Oruc Reis" could expire at any time, he announced.

EU diplomats are eagerly following via tracking websites on the Internet where the ship is currently located.

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Source: spiegel

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