Tensions are still running high and crackdowns continue in Minsk
The European Union and United States are working to sanction 40 Belarusian government officials accused of helping to falsify the results of last month’s election and to launch the ongoing brutal crackdown on protesters, dissidents, and political opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, U.S., and Lithuanian officials said Friday.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius highlighted the sanctions effort while speaking at an Atlantic Council event.
EU ministers agreed last month to levy the sanctions, but the formal decision to do so was derailed earlier on Friday when Cyprus threatened to veto the measure unless similar ones were imposed on Turkey.
The U.S. would be pursuing similar sanctions, said George Kent, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs. “Unity of effort to the extent that we can coordinate our efforts is important and it's been important for the last six-plus years on Ukraine and trying to synchronize our sanctions related to those who undermined Ukraine’s territorial integrity and their institutions,” Kent said at the event.
Linkevičius and Kent did not address the Cyprus threat directly.
The August Belarusian elections were widely seen as rife with fraud by independent observers. Lukashenko, the only person to hold presidential office since the position was created in 1994, claimed victory against Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after her husband was jailed.
The regime has since mounted a violent crackdown and arrested journalists. It has also throttled Internet access with the help of some U.S. companies such as Sandvine Inc. a maker of equipment for monitoring telecommunications traffic, according to an August report from Bloomberg. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Vladimir Putin, a close ally of Lukashenko, has threatened to send troops to Belarus to help Lukashenko; some have feared that Russia may try to annex the country to quell a pro-democracy uprising. But other Russia watchers have said that such wider action is unlikely. Lukashenko, meanwhile, has been trying to stoke fears about a possible attack from NATO.
Linkevičius called the situation “very complicated,” played down concerns of greater Russian military involvement in Belarus, saying it would only make the situation worse.
“There is no reason, practical, military, political or whatever” that it should occur, he said.
Linkevičius dismissed Lukashenko’s claim that NATO forces might expand into Belarus.
“This is not true,” he said.