EU leaders overcome Cyprus veto, agree to Belarus sanctions

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A general view of the round table meeting at an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. European Union leaders are meeting to address a series of foreign affairs issues ranging from Belarus to Turkey and tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. (Johanna Geron, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – European Union leaders agreed early Friday to impose sanctions on dozens of senior officials in Belarus accused of falsifying presidential election results and leading a crackdown on peaceful protesters, after unblocking a veto against the move by one of the EU’s smallest member countries.

In an embarrassing standoff, Cyprus had insisted that its EU partners take action against Turkey for its energy exploration work in disputed waters off the Mediterranean island nation’s coast before it would agree to the Belarus sanctions.

But after several hours of talks into the night, the leaders agreed on a strong statement of support for Cyprus, as well as for Greece, and a stern warning to Turkey that it could face punitive measures if it continues the undersea drilling work.

“We have to decided today to implement the sanctions," European Council President Charles Michel told reporters after chairing the summit in Brussels. “It’s very important to do what we decided a few weeks ago,” and to send a signal that “we are credible.”

Michel said that a special written procedure would be launched on Friday to impose sanctions on about 40 Belarus officials.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko "is not on the current list. But we will follow the developments," Michel said. The leader once dubbed Europe’s last dictator could be added to the list at a later date, should he refuse to enter into talks with the opposition, EU diplomats have said.

The political row has tarnished the EU’s image. It is also unusual in that all 27 EU member countries, including Cyprus, reject the result of the Aug. 9 election that returned Lukashenko to power for a sixth term. They all want a new election and agree that sanctions should be slapped on several officials.

Ahead of the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said “it is bad that we cannot make it work.”