Belarus Opposition Appeal To E.U. Fails To Unblock Sanctions

Belarusian opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s appeal to the European Union failed to overturn blocked sanctions against individuals within President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Citing requirements for unanimous decision on foreign policy, top diplomat Josep Borrell said, “[T]he required unanimity was not reached.”

On Monday, only Cyprus of the 27 E.U. members refused to sign sanctions aimed at over 40 Belarusian officials with travel bans and asset freezes, stipulating that equivalent action must be taken against Turkey for mining oil and natural gas in waters to which they and Greece claim exclusive rights. E.U. leaders criticized their association of Belarusian and Turkish affairs as disparate and blocking approval. Cyprus denied opposition, expressing desire for sanctions against both bodies to “move in parallel.” Their decision has revealed potential disunity within the E.U. While the Baltic States and eastern European nations strongly favor sanctions, others like France and Greece sympathize with Cyprus. According to U.S. News and World Report, Borrell addressed concerns for unity against Belarus, and that failure to punish them may further embolden Lukashenko, concluding “our [the E.U.] credibility is at stake.” 

Acknowledging “reasons not to push sanctions,” Tsikhanouskaya highlighted their significance for pressuring Lukashenko into dialogue with the opposition party, pleading E.U leaders to be “brave.” Denying reports of veto and isolation, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides told Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation “[T]his is not how things operate in the E.U.” He cited a meeting earlier this month among E.U. ministers in Berlin, where an agreement was reached to promote and fulfill efforts for Turkish and Belarusian issues.

When interviewing with Politico on Tuesday, French Minister of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaun, discussed Cyprus’s concern. Notwithstanding his denouncing their linkage of Belarusian and Turkish issues, he believes that the association arises from doubts “about the level of E.U. support,” and suggested that strong assistance could dissipate the deadlock. On the other hand, European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen said the E.U. should make a quicker decision, and that foreign policy matters should be resolved by majority rule instead of unanimity. Christodoulides retorted that the most important part of decision making should be E.U. interests. If they cannot be discerned, he warned of difficulty “for Cyprus and many other states to agree to such a qualified majority decision making on foreign policy issues.”

While Cyprus’s association of Turkey and Belarus appears unrelated, their concern is valid. Like Belarus’s struggle with independence from Russia, Cyprus has endured years of conflict with Turkey over their refusal to recognize Cypriot autonomy. In 1974, the Turkish military intervened in a coup by the Greek military Junta and Cypriot National Guard. The United Nations Security Council adopted a ceasefire ordering removal of foreign forces for contravening the U.N. charter that helped structure Cyprus and peaceful resolution among the three bodies to restore their government. Turkey transgressed, launching another invasion, claiming 37% of Cypriot territory, and displacing between 140,000 and 160,000 Greek Cypriots. Their actions were universally condemned, and the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus violated another resolution condemning Turkey’s occupation in Cyprus.

Turkey’s recent presence in Cypriot waters also marks illegal occupation of E.U. territory since Cyprus is a member state. Given that Belarus is outside the bloc, Cyprus’s association of Turkish and Belarusian affairs are germane to perceived contradiction of E.U. foreign policy. If the E.U. cannot maintain policies within member states, Lukashenko may view enforcement attempts beyond their border as weak and dismiss any actions.

E.U. efforts for Belarusian sanctions have coincided with ongoing protests against Lukashenko’s controversial landslide election victory over Tsikhanouskaya on 9 August.  Late last month, the Baltic States sanctioned Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials to punish alleged election rigging and human rights violations for brutality against protesters, to which they retaliated with reciprocal action. The E.U. has been cautious in devising Belarusian sanctions to avoid escalating conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarus’ closest ally. Germany has expressed similar caution for conflict with Turkey, recalling previous sanctions against two Turkish officials in February. Other bodies like France, supporting Cyprus by assembling high diplomatic visits and sending fighter planes, have received blame from E.U. diplomats for motivating their “intransigence.”

In addition to Cyprus’s refusal to sign sanctions, E.U. members hold vastly different perspectives on the gridlock and making decisions as a body. The E.U. should not replace unanimity with majority rule, particularly regarding sanctions for Belarus, as it risks Cyprus’s alienation. It may also instil resentment, inhibiting future negotiations as Christodoulides predicted, and escalate conflict between Cyprus and Turkey.

To show support for Cyprus, the E.U. should either impose mutual sanctions on Belarus and Turkey or consider new resolutions to address both crises. If they can show unification in condemning infringements on sovereignty consistently, perhaps Belarus and Turkey will seriously consider prospective sanctions and be more inclined to embrace negotiations.

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