The European Union no longer recognises the presidency of Alexander Lukashenko, the recently re-elected leader of Belarus, as of Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Lukashenko has taken steps to actively suppress the ongoing protests that have been calling for his resignation since 24 May, at the start of Lukashenko’s election campaign.
The decision came following a special video conference gathering all of the EU’s state leaders. According to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the EU delegitimised Lukashenko because it finds that the presidential elections of 14 August were unfair.
“The European Union stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus. And we don’t accept impunity,” Michel said. “This is about the right of the people to freely elect their leadership.”
“We stand with you in your desire for justice and a peaceful, democratic future.”
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) August 19, 2020
The Commission’s council announced that top figures in the Belarus regime that were involved in violence against protestors and election fraud will be sanctioned in the near future. Currently, Belarus as a whole is already under a series of EU sanctions, including the export of goods that can be used for oppression.
Michel also called on Belarus officials to resolve the crisis in a peaceful manner.
At the virtual press conference after the Council meeting, Michel confirmed that he had talked on the phone with Russia’s president Putin. “We sent a clear message. The future of the people of Belarus has to be decided in Belarus by its people, not in Brussels, nor in Moscow.”
”It’s important for both the EU and Russia to support the democratic process in Belarus. We want to avoid external interference in Belarus.” He added that he had read recent statements from Kremlin that it does not intend to interfere militarily.
European Council President Ursula von der Leyen said that the Council had decided to re-programme EU aid to Belarus from the authorities to support the people in the country, together €53 million. €50 million will be allocated in corona virus emergency support to the health care system, € 2 million to victims of the repression, and € 1 million to civil society.
The two EU leaders did not exclude that Lukashenko himself might be included in the EU list on targeted sanctions against Belarusian officials. The EU is working on such a list which will be ready shortly but there is an internal judicial process to follow. That said, EU stands ready to contribute to efforts to peacefully end the crisis by dialogue between the authorities and the opposition.
Michel did his best to allay Russian fears of EU interference in Belarus to avoid a repeat of what happened in Ukraine in 2014 where the overthrow of the president was followed by Russian support to insurgents in Donbass in eastern Ukraine and to the annexation of Crimea. He stressed that what is happening in Belarus is an internal national crisis.
On Wednesday afternoon, Lukashenko ordered police to put a stop to the protests in the country’s capital of Minsk.
Whether these commands have been obeyed is currently unclear. Over the past days, more and more police officers have left their posts. As of yet, there are no official reports of increased police violence.
Troops on Belarus’ borders have been commanded to prevent the “infiltration of weapons and combatants”. There is no known evidence to suggest such infiltration activities.
Previously, the government of Belarus repeatedly denied the abuse of protestors, though more and more evidence suggested otherwise. In total, three protestors have now passed away as a direct result from state violence. Thousands have been detained.
Last Saturday, Lukashenko discussed the protests with Russian president Vladimir Putin after claiming that the protests were in part fuelled by “external interference elements.” Putin made it clear that Russia is not behind the protests, and has lent the Belarusian president no further support. This rejection has been bad news for Lukashenko, as Russia remains Belarus’ largest political and economic ally since the end of the Soviet Union.
Last Monday, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told the public of Belarus she was “ready to assume [her] responsibilities and act as a national leader.” Tikhanovskaya lost the presidential race against Lukashenko, strongly disputing the election results and calling herself “the winner of this election.”
The Brussels Times