Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

EU suspends sanctions against Belarus despite flawed presidential elections

13 October 2015

In the Sunday election in Belarus boycotted by the opposition, President Alexander Lukashenko retained power for his 5th consecutive mandate after winning 83.5% of the popular vote.

This time, violent crackdowns on opposition candidates witnessed in previous elections did not take place, while political prisoners who challenged the president over his 21-year-long rule have also been released. Consequently, the EU has the intention to suspend the sanctions against Belarus, which were imposed for rights abuses and included travel bans and asset freezes against Lukashenko and around 170 other individuals and 14 groups, some reaching back more than a decade.

EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, said in their joint statement that the elections were held in “a peaceful environment” but Belarus still had a “considerable way to go” in fulfilling OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections. According to the statement, the EU will study carefully the final OSCE/ODIHR report on elections and its recommendations and will be ready to “assist Belarus in its efforts to bring its election process in line with international standards for democratic elections”. For their part, OSCE observers stated in their preliminary findings and conclusions earlier on Monday that the "integrity of elections had been undermined by significant problems", especially during the counting of the votes.

Financial Times cited senior EU diplomats who last week decided to, in principle, lift some sanctions, with a formal decision to be taken after the EU has reviewed reports on the conduct of the elections. According to FT, there is agreement among EU member states on the need of sanctions relief against Belarus as under the provisional agreement, more than 100 people will be removed from the EU sanctions list. However, it is stated that there were divisions over the extent of the relief.

Although recent revival of EU-Belarus relations and some moves by Minsk to distance itself from Moscow have been welcomed by Brussels, the decision concerning sanctions relief could pose problems to the EU as it could bring President Lukashenko’s autocracy out of its diplomatic isolation.

Belarus opposition activists urged the EU not to reward Mr Lukashenko by lifting sanctions due to rigged Sunday election. Andrei Sannikov, an opposition politician who was jailed for 16 months after he ran against Mr Lukashenko in 2010, said moves to lift sanctions sent out the wrong message.

Financial Times


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