The EU Commission will today release a list of Belarusian individuals to be sanctioned in response to the recent electoral overreach committed by the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus has been struck by waves of anti-government protests after Lukashenko—who has ruled with a Soviet-style authoritarian grip for 26 years—claimed 80% of the vote in the August 9 presidential election, a result which has been widely denounced as fraudulent both at home and abroad. The resultant unrest, unprecedented in volume, sparked a brutal crackdown by state security forces during which hundreds of activists have been detained; primary opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was forced into exile in Lithuania.
While EU member states have categorically rejected the results of the election and ramped up external pressure on the ruling regime—Germany, Sweden and Austria have all signalled their strong support of sanctions while the Central European Visegrád Four (V4) alliance met last week to reaffirm a unified stance—the EU has little leverage with which to influence the post-Soviet space, given the ineffectiveness of heavy regional sanctions imposed in the wake of Crimea’s illegal annexation.
Despite its offer to mediate a peaceful transition of power, EU leadership will likely toe a very narrow geopolitical line between Minsk and Moscow as Belarus extricates itself from prolonged political transition. The bloc is eager to preclude a decisive Russian military intervention—akin to those engineered in Ukraine and Syria—that might head off a Belarusian pivot towards relations with the West, and will likewise be wary of forcing the Belarusian electorate even further into Russian spheres. While the EU could extend financial and practical support to protesters, its response will likely be restricted to sanctions and will avoid any sort of security guarantee to the opposition in the short-term.
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Daniel is an analyst and editor on the Current Developments team. He contributes regularly to the Daily Brief, focusing primarily on European, Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan politics.