BRUSSELS -- The European Union has added another 19 names to its list of Belarusian officials who are subjected to visa bans and asset freezes.
The move follows the decision in January to impose sanctions on the country's president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and 157 other regime officials following the violent crackdown against protesters after December’s disputed presidential election.
The new names will be published in the EU’s official journal on March 22 and include judges and prosecutors who have been involved in the recent sentencing of opposition members, as well as university officials who expelled students for taking part in the protests.
Other possible punishments, such as targeted economic sanctions on Belarusian companies, were also discussed, but foreign ministers agreed for now to continue to monitor the situation.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told RFE/RL that the number of names on the sanctions list has increased because the situation in Belarus has worsened.
“We don’t see any progress in the behavior of the Belarusian authorities. Quite the contrary," he said. "So yes, we will be considering additional measures. We hope that President Lukashenka comes to his senses. But so far he has given no indication of that, so I am afraid that his relation with the EU will continue to suffer.”
Sikorski didn’t include in those additional measures, however, excluding Minsk from the Eastern Partnership, a forum in which the EU discusses visa and trade facilitation with post-Soviet countries.
“We would like Belarus to be a constructive member of the Eastern Partnership," he said. "And that is still open to Belarus. We are not indifferent to what is happening in our immediate neighborhood, and we sympathize with the plight of the Belarusian people.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was equally skeptical of sidelining Belarus too much from the Eastern Partnership agenda, but told RFE/RL that the Belarusian president would be a notable absentee at the forum’s summit in October.
“We still want some avenues of contact with the Belarusian authorities when it comes to issues such as environmental protection or visa facilitation, which is in the interests of ordinary Belarusians," Bildt said. "In these cases, we have to negotiate with the Belarusian authorities. But when we have the Eastern Partnership summit, then it is quite obvious who isn’t welcome.”
Other Ways To Help
The EU will now focus on helping Belarusian civil society in various ways. Several neighboring countries have scrapped, or are about to scrap, visa fees for Belarusian students, and Lithuania is considering providing legal assistance to some of the persecuted Belarusians.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis told RFE/RL that Vilnius could send lawyers to Minsk to defend individuals belonging to the opposition.
“We do have bilateral agreements with Belarus and Lithuania on legal assistance, which allows our lawyers to go, talk, and be present in Belarusian courts and vice versa,” Azubalis said.
On the sidelines of today’s foreign affairs meeting, the EU commissioner in charge of enlargement and neighborhood policy, Stefan Fuele, chaired a meeting with Belarusian representatives of civil society.
The participants discussed how to deliver aid to Belarus more efficiently after a fund-raising conference in Warsaw in February pledged 87 million euros ($120 million) to Belarusian opposition movements.
The European Commission has announced that Brussels will send some 17 million euros to Belarus in the form of direct aid over the next two years.
Several southern EU member states, led by Spain, have questioned the distribution of money in the EU’s neighborhood policy, arguing that more funds must be channeled to the countries in North Africa after the recent uprisings there.