EU to Expand Belarus Sanctions as Lukashenko Touts Putin Support

European Union foreign ministers pledged to expand sanctions against Belarus as President Alexander Lukashenko defiantly stepped up pressure on the opposition, touting a pledge of support from Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The proposed blacklist will exceed 20 Belarusian officials, including key election and law enforcement officials suspected of aiding vote fraud and the crackdown, according to EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell. Earlier, several ministers said Lukashenko may be added to the list, which involves asset freezes and travel bans.

“The people in Belarus demand a dialog, and they won’t stop demanding it, and Mr. Lukashenko will have to face this reality,” Borrell said, while calling on Russia to respect Belarusian sovereignty.

The U.S. and EU have rejected Lukashenko’s claim of a landslide victory in the Aug. 9 election and criticized the subsequent police crackdown. However, with the Kremlin offering to send in a police force if necessary, Lukashenko has increased pressure on the opposition with mass arrests.

In a sign of renewed aggression, police in riot gear detained more than 280 people at peaceful demonstrations in the capital Minsk Thursday evening, according to the Viasna human rights center. The Interior Ministry said Friday that 114 people are being held awaiting court hearings, while 50 reporters were brought in for document checks.

In the first days of the protests, at least 5 people died and the police detained nearly 7,000 people, some of whom said they were tortured in custody.

Adopted Soon

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a briefing Friday Lukashenko is still refusing to speak with her and that she hopes Russia won’t deploy troops in Belarus. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment in a call with reporters on the size of the forces or whether they are military or national guard units.

“We have made very very clear that we’re working on a sanctions list which should be adopted soon,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said. “We will work on proposals for restrictive measures which, shouldn’t there be any progress, and we don’t hope so, can and must be discussed at the summit.”

Lukashenko instructed his cabinet to consider diverting the flow of goods away from ports in Lithuania, which neighbors Belarus to the north and has been one of the most active proponents of sanctions. He has amassed troops near the Lithuanian border ahead of war games planned for this weekend.

“We’ll show them what sanctions are,” Lukashenko said during a visit to a dairy factory in Orsha, according to the state-owned news agency Belta. “Let’s see who scares whom.”

‘Offended Ambitions’

About 30% of the cargo that moves through the port of Klaipeda comes from Belarus, Lithuanian Economy Minister Rimantas Sinkevicius told reporters in Vilnius.

“It’s difficult to comprehend how one is holding on to power and how much one must hate one’s own nation to be ready to hurt your own country and people over offended ambitions,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Friday. “Should those decisions that Lukashenko is talking about today come into force they’d first and foremost hit Belarus itself.”

The opposition holds daily rallies in Minsk and is planning another mass demonstration over the weekend. More than 100,000 people attended a protest last Sunday to demand new elections.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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