Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged the EU to “be more brave” and impose sanctions on top officials in her country but the bloc’s foreign ministers failed to find consensus due to resistance from Cyprus.
Tikhanovskaya was the opposition candidate in last month’s presidential election, which triggered a mass uprising and widespread accusations of fraud after strongman Alexander Lukashenko declared himself reelected for another term.
On Monday, she took her campaign in support of the uprising to Brussels, where foreign ministers were trying to reach an accord on a list of about 40 Belarusian officials that the EU wants to hit with restrictive measures such as travel bans and assets freezes for their role in violence against protesters and election fraud.
But the ministers failed to break a deadlock that comes down to Cyprus’ insistence that the sanctions should not be approved until the EU has also agreed new sanctions on Turkey. Cyprus has stressed that this was the deal reached among ministers last month at a meeting in Berlin.
Cyprus wants further action against Ankara over what the EU has condemned as illegal Turkish drilling in the Mediterranean island’s territorial waters.
The matter will now go to EU leaders, who meet in Brussels later this week for a European Council summit.
Speaking after meeting some of the ministers on the sidelines of their gathering, Tikhanovskaya said sanctions were a key part in the campaign to bring Lukashenko to the table.
“Of course sanctions are very important in our fight, because sanctions is part of [the] pressure that will force so-called authorities to start dialogue with us,” Tikhanovskaya said.
“I have asked to be more brave” on sanctions, Tikhanovskaya said, speaking at the diplomatic mission of Lithuania, one of the most outspoken supporters of the Belarusian opposition among EU members, along with Poland.
Tikhanovskaya called on the EU not to recognize Lukashenko as president of Belarus — a step already taken by the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell. But there is no consensus yet on whether to impose sanctions on Lukashenko himself, diplomats said.
Tikhanovskaya also urged the EU “not to support financially the regime, because all the money that Mr. Lukashenko can get now, it will not go for the sake of the Belarus …. it will be only for violence, for killing Belarusian people.”
Tikhanovskaya made clear the opposition wants to ensure that an extra €53 million put on the table last month by the European Commission does not end up in Lukashenko’s coffers.
Only a small part of those funds, about €3 million, is allocated to civil society while the remaining €50 million is meant to help the health system deal with COVID-19.
Tikhanovskaya said the opposition was drawing up plans on “how to transfer this money directly to hospitals, directly to people who are suffering from COVID and I think we’ll … manage to do this.”
Tikhanovskaya’s staff said they had taken the opportunity to discuss these plans with the European Commission and declared they believed Lukashenko’s regime only has money for six to eight more weeks.
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