Macron’s Frustration Shows Limits of EU Influence in Belarus

French President Emmanuel Macron praised new European Union sanctions against Belarus while acknowledging that the measures might not suffice.

The 27 EU leaders meeting in Brussels vowed to add more Belarusian officials to an existing sanctions blacklist and adopt a broader set of punitive measures that would target companies and entire sectors of the country’s economy. They also demanded the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich, the 26-year-old Belarusian journalist who was detained when a Ryanair plane was forced to land in Minsk Sunday.

A visibly irritated Macron repeatedly asked a reporter after the summit what other measures could be more productive.

“It’s not obvious what else can be done,” Macron said Tuesday. “You yourself don’t know what to say -- in this case, do we start an armed conflict? Do we entirely cut off relations? We already did that. We go further but to where?”

The EU heads of states also vowed to ban Belavia Belarusian Airlines from entering EU airspace and asked EU-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarus.

Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko has already withstood years of Western pressure thanks to support from Russia and China.

With Russia, “the policy of progressive sanctions on frozen situations isn’t effective,” Macron said. “We are reaching a moment of truth in our relationship to Russia.”

The French leader came to power extending an olive branch to Vladimir Putin based on a “trust dialogue” and hosted the Russian president in France. He said other EU member states also want to “reframe their relationship with Russia.”

“Today,” Macron said, “we are at the limit of what sanctions policies can achieve.”

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