The European Union prolonged sanctions against Belarus for one year in yesterday’s decision (27 February) by the Council. The measures include an arms embargo, an asset freeze and a travel ban against four people listed in connection with the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, one businessman and one journalist in 1999 and in 2000. The sanctions include one exception introduced by the Council, which allows exports of biathlon equipment to Belarus subject to an authorization by national authorities.
The sanctions against Minsk were introduced for the first time in 2004 in response to the disappearance of the four persons mentioned above. The EU later broadened the restrictive measures against those involved in the violation of international electoral standards and international human rights law including in the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition. The arms embargo was introduced in 2011.
At the beginning of last year, the EU lifted the sanctions against 170 individuals and three legal entities, while retaining the embargo and the sanctions against four persons. This decision was taken while acknowledging the steps taken by Belarus that have contributed to the improvement in EU-Belarus relations. The future of the ties between both sides will mostly depend on the tangible steps taken by Minsk to respect human rights and rule of law, which will both remain key for the shaping of the EU’s future policy towards Belarus. The relations between the EU and Belarus have been relatively distanced and cold since the rise to power of Alexander Lukashenko in 1994.