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EU lifts most sanctions on Belarus

16.02.2016  |  Politics
EU lifts most sanctions on Belarus

EU foreign ministers have voted to abandon sanctions against Belarus President Aliaksandr Lukashenka and a number of other Belarusan officials.

All in all, 170 Belarusians, including President Aliaksandr Lukashenka and senior officials, along with three blacklisted Belarusian companies should be permanently removed from the EU list of those facing asset freezes and visa bans, RFE/RL informs.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dzmitry Mironchyk described the EU decision as "an important stage toward full normalization of our relations," saying it "opens up new opportunities for a broader, diverse cooperation" between Belarus and the EU.

The lifting of the measures goes into effect on March 1.

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU had seen a "positive trend" from Belarus.

"We have agreed by the fact that we have seen over the last couple of years some steps that are encouraging and that is what we want to try and support and encourage further, which means that the way is still long ahead of us, especially ahead of the authorities [in Belarus]," she said in Brussels.

But she maintained that the situation in Belarus was not a "rosy or a perfect picture," insisting the bloc would maintain a policy of "critical engagement" with Minsk.

As expected, the EU left an arms embargo in place and extended for another year sanctions targeting four Belarusian officials suspected of involvement in opposition disappearances more than a decade ago.

The sanctions were set to expire at the end of this month, following a four-month suspension in October.

Most were imposed in response to an official crackdown against the opposition following a flawed presidential election in 2010, but some date back as far as 2004.

Speaking outside the EU ministers meeting in Brussels, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius insisted that the move did not mean that EU "expectations and requirements" toward the Belarusian authorities will be "lowered."

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom acknowledged to journalists in the EU capital that "the situation of human rights and democracy has not improved."

"But we also think that sanctions need to be one element of what our relation to Belarus should be and how we are going to work with Belarus as a partner," Wallstrom said.

"So now we have a compromise on the table according to which we" -- the European Union -- "should keep some sanctions and discuss a broader strategic position on Belarus."

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski called the partial lifting of the sanctions an "experiment."

"As a neighbor [of Belarus], we are satisfied because we hope that it will improve our neighborly relations," Waszczykowski said, adding that he plans to travel to Belarus and see whether the country "is determined to cooperate with the European Union and -- above all -- with Poland."

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei said on February 9 that "sanctions are not a good method to develop cooperation and interstate relations."

"We are ready to move along our part of the way in the framework of EU's expectations," state-controlled news agency BelTA quoted Makei as saying. "We are interested in looking for common ground through dialogue and moving on to normal cooperation."

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