E.U. Agrees to Penalize Lukashenko, but Gives Him Time to Back Down

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BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, widely seen as having stolen the recent election — but they also appeared to offer him a way out of the penalties.

The proposed sanctions must first go through legal vetting and may not be implemented if Mr. Lukashenko engages in serious talks with the opposition about new elections and eases a crackdown against protesters.

Some 40 Belarusian officials have already faced an asset freeze and a travel ban. After a violent confrontation in Belarus on Sunday in which the police used water cannons and arrested more than 700 protesters, the E.U. foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, agreed to expand the list to include the authoritarian president and others.

“In line with the E.U.’s gradual approach, the E.U. stands ready to take further restrictive measures, including against entities and high-ranking officials, including A. Lukashenko,’’ they said in a statement.

Once the legal work is done, the ministers will have to approve the implementation of any new sanctions, which they are trying to use as a means to pressure Mr. Lukashenko. He has been under E.U. sanctions in the past, but they were lifted in 2016 when he eased up on the opposition and released some critics from prison.

Mr. Lukashenko is already under sanctions from the United States and Britain, as well as from the Baltic nations. In response, Belarus has expelled several ambassadors of E.U. member states.

On Monday, the country’s Interior Ministry threatened to use lethal weapons against the demonstrators.

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Gennady Kazakevich, the first deputy interior minister, said in a statement that protests recently had turned “extremely radical” and that security forces would now have the option of using more than the rubber bullets, stun grenades, violent arrests and mass detentions that had been deployed previously to stop the demonstrations.

“Police officers and interior troops won’t leave the streets and will use special equipment and military weapons if necessary,” Mr. Kazakevich said.

The E.U. ministers also agreed on Monday to scale back the financial support the bloc gives to the Belarus government and to redirect some of the funds to civil society groups. The bloc has already declared that it does not recognize Mr. Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus after elections on Aug. 9 that it deemed fraudulent.

“The EU calls on the Belarusian authorities to seek a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis through an inclusive national dialogue with broader society,” the ministers said, supporting a plan by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help set up such talks.

The ministers said that a substantial package of aid would be available to support a democratic transition.

Mr. Lukashenko appeared to show some willingness to negotiate when, on Saturday, he visited to a jail in central Minsk, the capital, to hold a meeting with detained opposition leaders.

The meeting lasted more than four hours, during which Mr. Lukashenko discussed possible changes to the country’s Constitution, according to a brief video of his speech.

The E.U. ministers also agreed to impose sanctions on Russian officials and organizations blamed for the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny, a prominent opposition leader, with a nerve agent.

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But the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, provided no details about who in Russia might face sanctions or when the measures might come into force, saying that technical work on preparing the action was proceeding.

Monika Pronczuk contributed research from Brussels, and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Moscow.


Source NY Times

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